In today's feature on Sony spyware we learn that if you play certain copy-protected music CDs in your PC then Sony code is loaded onto your PC and masks itself so that you don't know it's on your hard drive. Then the software runs whenever that CD is played.
Isn't this just an astonishing thing to do the more you think about it? Suppose I were to park my RV (recreational vehicle) on Sir Howard Stringer's front lawn. And then, to add insult to injury, plug the battery charger into one of his household sockets.
What would he do? He'd charge me with trespassing and with thieving electricity. Quite right too. I'd, of course, say that when he bought his sandwich for lunch it did actually say at the bottom of the lable that I had the right, because of his purchase, to park my RV on his lawn. To which his reponse would be: "*7(%$^&." Quite right too.
But is what Sony is doing with its spyware any different?
Yes, Sony says. Because the end user license agreement on the CD says that software will be loaded onto your PC. But this is small print. Who is going to read it? And if Sony is being open about it why isn't the software readily identifiable?
It puts software on a users' hard drive and then runs the software automatically. It get's transferred into RAM and uses CPU cycles - which means electricity paid for by that user is being consumed.
What's a few amps here and a few hundred bytes there? Nothing much really. But it's not the size of the individual insults that Sony is visiting upon its customers, it's the principles involved in how it is treating its customers. For sheer unmitigated arrogance this takes some beating.
Sony had the software created for it by First 4 Internet Ltd, a Banbury-based company in the UK. Its spokesperson, Mathew Gilliat-Smith, says: "This is a legitimate technology that we've been charged to produce," Gilliat-Smith said: "People who aren't comfortable with the technology can apply to have the software removed."
That's alright then. Well I wish that a group of gypsies park their caravans on Gilliat-Smith's front lawn. If he doesn't like it he can apply to have them removed. Isn't that a correct interpretation of his attitude?
I take great exception to this attitude of Mathew Gilliat-Smith. My PC is mine, lock, stock and barrel. The Windows software on it is licensed - okay, but the disk recording surface is my real estate, just like my table tops, floor space and grassy lawns. Neither Sony nor its agents can dump a surveillance camera on my lawn without my say so, and power it with my electricity - they wouldn't dream of doing this. Not in a million years. It's such an obvious no-no.
Yet they treat my PC as theirs to use as they wish. Why?
That's what they have done with this abominable spyware. 'Apply to have it removed"? Pshaw. Sony should apply to PC owners to have it installed. It is sheer arrogance on Sony's part to surreptitiously load software that then masks itself and is virtually uninstallable unless you are an expert.
Why would it be wrong to conclude that Sony is in effect 'stealing' CPU cycles and electricity from its customers?
I say 'stealing'. Isn't the term justified? How else would you describe the actions of someone who, without your knowledge, without openly telling you, loads software on your PC, hides its presence, and then has it automatically run without your say so?
If Sony cares to explain why this isn't similar to stealing I'll happily pass on its statement with no editing whatsoever.