Sunday, December 16, 2001

George Mindling Column 2-16-2001


Read Any Good EULAs?


Imagine my surprise when I found out I had given an Internet, dot-com company the right to read and transmit data from my hard drive to their database every time I logged on to the Internet!

I was really upset my "firewall" program had failed to protect my PC when I first discovered data from my PC being transmitted to an unknown collector of my persona] data. I thought I was safe from this invasion of privacy. After all, I had installed not only the latest anti-virus program, but the latest Internet Firewall Program as well.

In addition, I subscribe to an update service which regularly installs the latest changes to both programs. How then. did this company gain access to read and collect data from my hard drive? Simple! I gave it to them.

I did it when I failed to read the EULA, or End Users License Agreement, that is included in practically every software program you'll ever install on a personal computer. Oh, you don't read the fine print on the software "I agree" page during software installation? Neither did I. After giving the usually standard EULA page a cursory glance, I usually click on the agree button to get the installation process rolling. The EULA usually states the same basic rights of ownership and non-copying provisions that arc similar to all programs.

Surprise! Surprise! Read all of them from now on, things are changing in the software world. As most people know, you don't buy software, you lease it. You do not own the programs you buy, you simply have the right to use them. If you did own the software. you could alter a program or rename it and sell it as a product of your own. You specifically agree not to do that when you click on the "agree button," or in some cases, when you open the container the software was shipped in. You don't own the right to a song on an audio tape or a CD; likewise, you don't own the programs on the diskettes or CD, either.

The problem is hidden deep in the many pages of fine print most people skip when installing software. My agreement to allow the authors of the software program 1 bought to have access to my data was in a paragraph buried deep in the EULA that I assumed was harmless. I tried to print it out, but only small pieces of text can he printed at any given time. making it difficult to print out for a legal review.

Basically, the paragraph I agreed to said they could compile information they wanted and forward it at their discretion. This had nothing to do with the now famous cookies that practically every Web site posts on everyone's hard drives. The software routines that collected my data had nothing to do with the program I had installed, even though the program was related to Internet and Web page usage. I immediately uninstalled the program, but they had left a hook requiring me to reload my browser. and eventually reload Windows 98 before I was clear of the unwanted program.

I'm not sure how they avoided my firewall program, but I'm sure from now on I'll read the fine print!


George Mindling © 2001

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