TCS Daily


Keep Your Grubby Mitts Off My Hard Drive

By Glenn Harlan Reynolds - September 13, 2006 12:00 AM

I'm a big fan of Amazon.com -- as my credit card statements can attest -- and I've watched their gradual entry into the online video world with considerable enthusiasm. If anybody can make that work, I figured, it would be Amazon.

But now, it looks like they're dropping the ball. Amazon's new UnBox video service turns out to have some traits that are even more annoying than the impenetrable cellophane stickers they put on DVD cases.

CNET reviewer Tom Merritt gave it a try, and discovered that you have to download proprietary Amazon player software to make it work. The software was a bit buggy, but that was only the beginning of his troubles. It turns out that it always wants to launch, and it keeps trying to access the Internet to phone home:

"I went to msconfig and unchecked Amazon Unbox so that it would definitely not launch itself at start-up. When I rebooted, it was no longer there. However, my firewall warned me that a Windows service (ADVWindowsClientService.exe ) was trying to connect to the Net. I clicked More Info in the firewall alert and found it was Amazon Unbox. Downright offensive. It still was launching a Net-connection process that even msconfig apparently couldn't stop. Forget it. That's not the behavior of good software. I went to uninstall it.

After the Install Shield launched and I chose uninstall, I got a login screen for my Amazon account. I just wanted to uninstall it. I shouldn't have to log in to my account to do that. So I canceled the login, and the uninstall failed. I tried that three times, and it failed each time. Finally I gave up and logged in and the uninstall finished.

So, in summary, to be allowed the privilege of purchasing a video that I can't burn to DVD and can't watch on my iPod, I have to allow a program to hijack my start-up and force me to login to uninstall it? No way. Sorry, Amazon."

Merritt's advice to Amazon: "Try again."

That's good advice, but what amazes me about this is that anyone who regularly uses computers could have told Amazon that this was a dumb idea.

The bugs are part of the problem, of course, but any time you use a proprietary player you're going to have bugs -- QuickTime and Windows Media, which have had many, many more iterations than a proprietary player will ever have, still haven't worked out all the bugs. Something new, and smaller-circulation, is bound to be buggier.

What's more, the whole philosophy here -- from the program's spyware-like behavior to its requiring you to login to uninstall software -- is totally wrong. Get this straight content providers: Our computers belong to us. If we're in the mood, we might let you sell us some stuff to run on them. But they don't belong to you, and we're not likely to surrender control over our own bought-and-paid-for hardware, which we often rely on to do our jobs and run our lives, simply in exchange for letting you sell us something. (Honestly, most of what you're selling isn't all that good anyway, and you're lucky that people buy it at all. So don't get greedy. And while click-through license agreements may make it legal, they won't make you any more popular.)

This isn't as bad as the disastrous Sony spyware scandal -- which also involved problems with uninstallation. But it's bad enough. As much as people in the entertainment business go on about their intellectual property, they're pretty cavalier with other people's personal property.

So here's my advice: Keep your grubby software off of my computer, or do without my business.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a TCS Daily contributing editor.

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30 Comments

Thanks
I have been having the same viseral reaction for years and was beginning to assume nobody else cared/minded.

RealPlayer installs 'tkbell.exe' and starts it at boot up (I think to shove ads at you) - a lot of game companies make it hard to fix the bugs (they ship their product with) unless you sign up with some lame website you have no interest in ever going back to (I could go on ...)

I assume we owe (gasp) Sony* thanks


-David

* ((R)/'TM'/(C)/FBI Warning)

Another Dilbert Moment?
TO: Glenn Reynolds
RE: Been There. Done That....

"It turns out that it always wants to launch, and it keeps trying to access the Internet to phone home:" -- Tom Merritt as cited by Glenn Reynolds

Sounds like that Dilbert cartoon about Dilbert starting up a new OS on his home computer.

First Frame: Computer says, "I have located your credit card information."

Second Frame: Computer says, "I have examined the programs on your computer and am ordering software I think you need."

Third Frame: Dilbert to Dogbert, as he loads a double-barreled shotgun, "I don't know if it's a virus or a very clever marketing scheme."

We had a similar problem with the recently procured Dell laptop. It went out, found our WiFi net accessed it and was communicating with SOMEONE-SOMEWHERE and REFUSED to be disconnected.

This is a prime example of why I normally don't use Microsoft products. There are numerous other reasons. [Note: We had to get this Dell because there was an application we HAD to use that absolutely refused to run on Virtual PC.]

Enjoy,

Chuck(le)
[Microsoft despises the Bill of Rights. Especially when there is a buck to be made from terminating the concept.]

Aarrrggghh - - - - - -
I'm opposed to capital punishment generally; but I'll make an exception in this case. All web site managers, and advertisers, should be made to put their names on a slip of paper to be placed in a hat. Daily, at random, a slip of paper should be drawn out by a blind man, and that slip's wicked abuser of ordinary, innocent computer users, should be taken out for public execution; as an example to the rest.

I can't make up my mind whether boiling in oil, or burning-at-the-stake would be the most appropriate, perhaps, out of consideration and kindness, we should give them the choice, which would be very similar to the choices they give us.

It is far worse than you think
Trying to purchase music videos from a Canadian Internet provider address is pointless.

Can't buy from any site that does not reside on Canadian soil.

Ipod sales are dropping.

I won't buy one. There is no point in buying one unless you are an American living in America.

We still have to buy the CD and then load it onto our computer then transfer what we want to our portable player.

The funny part is I can watch them for free at Yahoo.

Desktop, not web.
While there are some pretty ugly web sites out there they really can't mess up your computer (unless you do stupid things like download from random web sites or use Internet Explorer). It's pretty easy to stay 'clean' browsing the net.

The problem really comes down to the user. Don't install crap or it will mess up your system.

This is a good example of why product reviews are useful. While the amazon software didn't cause any harm to the computer it is uncontrollable/unconfigurable and performs actions that the end user probably won't like. Now we know not to get it.

Software works like any other market. It's expensive to create, and if we simply stay away from crap like this the market will eventually learn (although we do need to get rid of some of the crap laws like the DMCA to allow some innovation).

Secure you're WIFI
While I won't defend the way the computer was working (although I'll bet the 'refused to be disconnected' is at least partially a lack of familiarity with Windows) I'm wondering why you would be running an unsecured WIFI connection especially in a business. That's just asking for trouble.

I do agree with your sentiment about Microsoft products in general though. I stay away from them as much as I can.

zonealarm pro
I use this product exclusively.

I top it up with registry mechanic

I also use a hub, which adds a layer of security.

Amazon's not the only player
Apple just put out its vision folding movies/TV shows into iTunes. I wonder how it compares.

It isn't just software....
My wife and I added Verizon video to our phone and FIOS DSL. The router supports both wired and wireless connections, and I had turned on every protection it offered: MAC filtering, changed the admin password, enabled WPA encryption -- and backed the settings up to hard drive. As part of the video install, for reasons known only to G-d, Verizon decided to replace the router. They didn't let us know in advance, and didn't ask my wife (I'm on a contract in Richmond VA; my wife's in Plano TX) or me about configuration. My wife isn't technically literate, so now it will be Thursday night / Friday morning before I can put the shields back up. Grrrr! I have internal software firewalls and antivirus, but that's not necessarily enough.

ZoneAlarm is great.
For my Windows box I use it myself. I also through in AVG antivirus and Adaware.

A hub does nothing at all for any kind of security. Hubs are very dumb pieces of hardware, all they know how to do is repeat messages. Maybe you meant a router with NAT and maybe a built in Firewall?

Wow
I would be so ******* pissed off at Verizon over that one. I can't hardly think of a fitting punishment. I'd have to call customer service, go straight to a manager, and rip him a new one for that kind of idiocy. I'd aim for some kind of apology along with a free month or two of service at a minimum. I'd have to consider dropping the whole thing and going with a different provider if that was an option.

god to know
I think it is just a hub

dlink Dl 704P

It's a router
The Dlink SL 704P is a router. It has a built in firewall and bunch of other stuff.

If you point your browser to http://192.168.1.1 you will most likely get the setup page for the router. The number might be a bit different, but that is the most common one. Check your manual if that doesn't work.

If you've never gone to the setup page you should do that and change the default password (which is usually 'admin'). It's not such a bad problem as your router doesn't have wireless access, but you should still do it for security.

not available in Canada
another good reason to avoid Itunes.

Looks like I will be buying Cd's and DVD's for the foreseeable future, eh?

USA should fight back
Domestic artists only.

The US should disallow foreign performers work Visas in the US.

thanks
...

Spyware
Spyware and programs that behave similarly are a big problem with the industry that may have to find a solution in Congress.

No Subject
>>Domestic artists only.

>>The US should disallow foreign performers work Visas in the US.

Yea, that dreadful 'British Invasion' a few years back sure was something my (AMERICAN) ears don't need the option of ever hearing again.

While we're at it I think our KIDS need protected from the Nickelodeon ruffians who come over and make my kids watch cartoons MADE IN CANADA. I mean, why else would they like Martian Mystery? I've raised them right. Those awful, smelly, cheese eating, funny looking Canucks and everything they produce needs to be banned too.

Won't anyone think of the CHILDREN? What kind of culture will we have in 20 years if we keep letting people like that in?

That explains why...
That explains why my work gets so much spam from Verizon IP addresses.

Surely you jest
... a solution in Congress ...
Surely you jest!

Keep Your Grubby Mitts Off My RAM
I run QuickTime about once a month, but it still wants to be in memory (to help me start it faster) all the time.

On top of that, QuickTime thinks I also need iPodHelper to run also. I have yet to buy a Walkman, let alone and iPod. Why do I need iPodHelper?

Of course, I disabled their services,

Bad program behavior
This one is a pet peeve of mine, too. I especially hate it when you disable a program's extraneous thread in startup and it reinstalls itself. Realplayer is no longer allowed on my system.

Non-technical people can't really even keep a windows machine functioning. I recently purged a ton of accumulated bloatware that was constantly running the processor and bogging down my sister's pc.

How many lines of code in a modern program are dedicated to serving the company's purposes against the user's wishes? It seems that most companies regard your system as their resource.

interesting
"It seems that most companies regard your system as their resource."

If you think about it, the way everything is sold through licence agreements how much of what you have paid for is actually yours?

Try
reading what I wrote.
Shame though, that could have been mildy amusing.
better luck next time.

Common sense and common law - - - - -
There are essential laws against property crimes of trespassing and breaking-and-entering and appropriating (stealing) computer functions without permission. Our law enforcement folks should be running these jerks down and levying huge fines on the order of the damage they do. If that doesn't get their attention a little jail time will.

Even legit web sales of products and services we all need often insist on ridiculously complex, extensive registration, passwords, user names, etc.. In the ordinary real world the seller is, properly, only interested in getting his money, not in playing CIA games. Oh well, web conventions and institutions are just in the beginning phase.

Now there's an idea...
Does use of computer resources against the will of the user, despite the EULA, constitute theft of computer resources?

I think a case could be made that any sort of EULA that covers the installation of third-party software can be invalidated on the grounds that there is not a "meeting of the minds." Because advanced technical knowledge cannot be assumed on the part of all purchasers of a piece of software, it seems reasonable to me that they will be unable to comprehend the nature of the third-party software installed on their computer alongside whatever they are buying/downloading.

Furthermore, I think a case could be made that the people who purchase or download software are obtaining it to perform a specific function, and that the inclusion of third-party software unrelated to the purpose of the software that is being sought amounts to use for that company's own purposes, without the permission of the End User.

At the end of the day, I think the lack of real damages would be the problem. While much of this garbage certainly slows down systems, they still function. It would be hard to demonstrate any real damage except in the aggregate, and anybody who signed on to a lawsuit would end up recieving a check of about $35 or so for their lost time.

Stealing small things isn't a crime - - - - - - ?
Good post, Pub, except for the last part. If I found a way, and transfered a dime, or a penny, or other unnoticeably small amount, from all computer accounts into my own account, I shouldn't be prosecuted?

The matter of damages pertains to civil law; which might well apply here; in addition to criminal law. I'd donate my $35 to a home for destitute enforcement officers. What is "small damage" to a geek is a major impediment to us struggling dim witted duffers.

The point is, what would any real enforcement do to the motives of the thieves themselves? And what would it do for the beneficial use of expanded computer commerce? Proper 'class-action' was designed pricisely to bring justice to this sort of injustice. Where is Eliot Spitzer when he's really needed?

Oops, I should have made that clear.
I should have emphasized that I thought pursuing spyware and adware distributors by civil litigation would be more effective than criminal law. I'm glad you pointed that out, because it brings up the real question in attempting to pursue this matter via criminal law: What could adware and spyware developers be charged with stealing?

Unlike in the dime and penny example you offer, they are not stealing anything that has an obvious and concrete value. By slowing down our internet connections and our computers they are, in essence, stealing our time. Why don't we arrest the makers of programs that run less efficiently than they could for stealing time? How about arresting telemarketers for using up our time? Theft of time is not a crime, or most of us would be in jail for something.

They could be charged with stealing processor time, bandwidth, etc. However, any program that runs inefficiently could be called a theif of these things. Windows runs an awful lot of programs that I never use and do not want or need, should we have Bill Gates arrested and charged with theft?

There is also the fact that people purchased this software, and are free to uninstall it if they like. While it could be argued that the EULA is illegitimate, that simply means that the business is guilty of putting together a bad contract, not of theft.

Similarly, I doubt very much that they are materially misrepresenting themselves (a.k.a. fraud.) They do clearly state in their contracts that they include software from third-parties. They are not lying, they are simply telling people things that they are not likely to be able to understand.

Civil litigation, is capable of dealing with and compensating for the injurious consequences of bad contracts. A bad contract means that people have been injured in ways that they did not sign up for, and that businesses can be held accountable for providing recompense.

W e l l l l l,....not quite - - - - - -
Tnx for your thotful comments. As you probably know, most of telemarketing now is illegal, with a bureau of public enforcers to take complaints from people who have gone on record as not wanting be telemarketed. This is a good precedent for what we're discussing. Maybe we should do spam next.

People who do not defend their right to be let alone, deserve what they get and should not complain. I hope I, and you, are not among them. We need electronic "No Soliciting" signs that are enforceable and enforced.

I know :(
..

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