More details on the onerous MTV Urge license agreement

More details on the onerous MTV Urge license agreement

Summary: Microsoft's security group says a program should never update or reinstall itself without notifying you and receiving your explicit consent. That sort of behavior is one of the warning signs of a spyware program. So why is the new MTV Urge service allowed to break these rules?

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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Earlier today, I wrote about the frightening license agreement that accompanies MTV Urge, the new "better than iTunes" music service that Microsoft is offering as a key feature of Windows Media Player 11. It reminded me of a post I wrote almost a year ago, when Microsoft was reportedly thinking of buying Claria.

I followed some of the links in that story and found this Microsoft white paper, which outlines the criteria Windows Defender uses to identify spyware.

Any impartial observer who compares those criteria with the terms of the Urge license agreement will conclude that the new service exhibits several questionable behaviors that are identical to those Microsoft uses to identify spyware. Is Urge spyware? Almost certainly not. But this add-in for Windows Media Player uses some of the same underhanded techniques that spyware distributors use. See for yourself.

From the white paper:

Users must be notified about what is happening on their computers, including what a program does and whether it is active. … Software that exhibits poor consent … [i]nstalls, reinstalls, or removes software without user permission, interaction, or consent…

Users must be able to control programs on their computer. They must be able to start, stop, and otherwise revoke authorization to a program. Software that exhibits lack of control … [i]nitiates autostart or auto update behavior without user consent.

From the license agreement:

[W]e shall (and you agree we are permitted) to transmit and arrange for automatic installation of any and all updates, modifications, and/or even full re-installations of the Software … These updates, modifications, re-installations and other modifications to the Software can occur periodically or when necessary and without any notice to you.

By Microsoft’s own definition, this behavior is questionable, to say the least. Why should any program ever be allowed to update or reinstall itself without notice or consent?

Just to be clear, this agreement was drafted by MTV, not Microsoft. The agreement is between Urge users and Urge, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Viacom International Inc. But it’s integrated directly into Windows Media Player 11, which means Microsoft can’t pin the responsibility for this weasely agreement on Viacom. They have to share the blame.

Microsoft’s privacy agreement for Windows Media Player is a model of clarity and consent, and Media Player updates are never installed except with your explicit consent. That makes it even more disturbing to see these questionable provisions being shoehorned into Windows Media Player 11. I hope someone at Microsoft takes a long, careful look at this agreement and fixes it, soon.

Topic: Microsoft

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11 comments
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  • Self-modifying code

    has ALWAYS been a "bad" practice in programming. However, I do worry about some things - like someone that has time to read a 6800 word document of legalese . . . ;)
    Roger Ramjet
    • Hardly the same thing as self-modifying code...

      SMC is code that modifies itself in memory whilst running. Applying an update is hardly the same thing.

      The ability to perform updates automatically is hardly new. Granted, it is unusual to "force" users into updating, but I would imagine this is part and parcel of the agreement with the music industry. Should the DRM get cracked, Urge can automatically update the software with a new DRM.

      You people need to start looking at the needs of the industry ALONGSIDE the needs of the user. A good example of this is iTunes. The DRM in version 5.x of the software can be easily removed, whereas the DRM in version 6 cannot. Apple do not force users to update, but they DO make it impossible for earlier releases of their iTunes software to work with the music store. They also make it hard (impossible?) to remove the later version and downgrade to an earlier verions (i.e v6 > v5). If they do not protect the integrity of the DRM, then the music industry will simply not allow them to have the recordings. What use is a music download site that has no music?
      Scrat
      • Needs of the industry

        Lets be clear about this. the only need the industry has is to stay in business - and that is not one of my needs. in order to stay in business, industry needs to understand that I will not buy or knowingly install any malware that changes anything on my system without my permission. That is one of the big reasons I don't have XP on my home system. after it formated my drive and work data without an exit option at work (the 455h073 tech didn't back anything up proir to the unannounced install) I wouldn't touch XP or anything new miKro$loth with anything I valued.
        zclayton2
        • More like the needs of a lazy technician...

          [b]That is one of the big reasons I don't have XP on my home system. after it formated my drive and work data without an exit option at work (the 455h073 tech didn't back anything up proir to the unannounced install)...[/b]

          SO let's see if I got this right. You're at work. A tech stopped by your desk/cubical/office and proceeded to do an install of Windows XP on your machine. And the ID-10-T of a tech

          a.) didn't back up the existing data.

          and

          b.) opted to do a full wipe of the hard drive instead of an upgrade of the existing software.

          And this is why you opt to NOT upgrade to XP at home?

          For what it's worth - when you install XP, there are a NUMBER of options. You do NOT have to wipe out the ENTIRE contents of your hard drive to install XP. You can simply choose to install XP into another directory or overwrite the existing Windows directory.

          It sounds to me like the IT dept where you work aren't exactly the sharpest tools in the shed - at the very least, they should have notified you (and everyone else) that they were planning to upgrade the OS in the office and therefore, it might be a good idea to back up your work files ahead of time.

          For the record:

          Windows XP does not magically show up anywhere,
          and begin installing itself by wiping everything out without some sort of HUMAN INTERVENTION.

          Oh. And FYI, the installer for XP DOES have an Exit option - at least up to the point where you wipe out the existing partition(s) and create a new one to start the installation. But hey... the installer for Windows 95 or 98 behaved the EXACT same way. You (or the tech) could have simply pressed F3 at ANY time up to the point where he wiped out the partiton(s) and the program would have stopped.

          And for what it's worth - EVERY OS - including Linux - will also behave the same way.

          So, you're quite right to call the tech a horse's arse and should be taken out behind the proverbial stable to be shot. At the very least, he should be fired for stupidity.

          So don't blame Microsoft for what's pretty much normal behavior when you're installing ANY OS. Put the blame where it belongs - the ID-10-T doing the upgrade. If I'd have to guess - that worthless tech probably told you he couldn't stop the process either because he was already past the Fdisk stage OR he simply didn't want to be bothered with stopping, backing up your data files and starting over again. I'm guessing it was the latter.
          Wolfie2K3
          • Geez...

            [b]It sounds to me like the IT dept where you work aren't exactly the sharpest tools in the shed - at the very least, they should have notified you (and everyone else) that they were planning to upgrade the OS in the office and therefore, it might be a good idea to back up your work files ahead of time.[/b]

            Not only that, but why are you storing important files on your local drive instead of on the network where (I presume) they would be backed up as a matter of course? Sounds like your company is a magnet for morons...
            Big Juju
    • On reading 800 pages of legalese...

      ... ISTJ?
      whisperycat
      • 13 pages...

        ...not 800.

        And the longer a license agreement is, the more likely it is that someone is trying to hide something.
        Ed Bott
  • Another reason to look at Open Source

    Believe it or not, I still use a Win98SE PC for most of my computing -- and this is a reason why. For all the glamour of WinXP, using the more archaic system at least allows me to have better control about who's doing what on it.
    SteveDH
    • yea nice when you use it in a home pc

      the glamour of XP case you didn't know is the NTFS...try to add 98 to a domain, can happen but about the least secure thing in the planet and no you don't have control about who's doing what on it, sheez...."allows me to have better control about wh's doing what on it" only because you can't run crap on it. Better luck next time. keep the 98 in the garage. Also understand you have more control over the registry and services in XP. Also files and folder level encrytpion and security. If you don't know how to do this read up on application control in XP. Just because 98 doesn't support UNICODE doesn't mean its more secure. Only reason it maybe more secure in [u]some respects[/u]is because no one writes malicious code for 98 hardly anymore, but doesn't mean you're safe. Media Player 11 (which Urge requires)won't run on 98 since its no longer supported, so you're point is mute anyhow.
      spdrcrtob
  • You must buy Vista XP! Money for nothing ...

    A bit of humour adapted from 2002 which even more relevant given the Microsoft and MTV launch of the DRM based URGE Service.
    http://www.aardvark.co.nz/daily/2002/1008c.htm#1

    [i]With deepest apologies to Mark Knofler and Dire Straits[/i]

    "Money for Microsoft" by Dire Warnings
    Sung by Steve Ballmer, backing by Bill Gates

    You must buy ...
    You must buy Vista-XP

    You must buy ...
    You must buy Vista-XP

    You must buy ...
    You must buy Vista-XP

    You must buy ...
    You must buy Vista-XP

    Now look at them bozo's that's the way you do it
    You lock them always on the Vista-XP
    That ain't workin' thats the way we do it
    Money for Microsoft from urge usage fees
    Now that ain't workin' thats the way we do it
    Lemme tell ya them guys are dumb
    Maybe get a licence on your little desktop
    Maybe get a licence on everyone

    They gotta install Media Player
    Urge Dot-Net deliveries
    They gotta take these applications
    They gotta take these subscription fees

    Look at that, look at that

    See the little Win-Troll spreading spin we makeup
    Yeah buddy thats our own fear
    That little Win-Troll got them always complain'
    That little Win-Troll makes us billionares

    They gotta install Media Player
    Urge Dot-Net deliveries
    They gotta take these applications
    They gotta take these subscription fees

    They shoulda learned to use the Linux
    They shoulda learned to use them Macs
    Look at that user, we got it stickin' to the customer
    Man we could have some fun
    And their down there, whats that? Protesting noises?
    Plannin' on me dancing like a chimpanzee
    That ain't workin' thats the way we do it
    Get the money for Microsoft get our usage fee

    They gotta install Media Player
    Urge Dot-Net deliveries
    They gotta take these applications
    They gotta take these subscription fees

    That ain't workin' thats the way we do it
    You lock them always on the Win-XP
    That ain't workin' thats the way we do it
    Money for Microsoft from the license fee
    Money for Microsoft from subscription fees

    David Mohring - Original author

    Note: dancing like a chimpanzee - see
    http://www.google.com/search?q=ballmer+monkeyboy+mpeg
    David Mohring
  • And to think I sold all my CD's.

    All this legality just for music. Good grief. Time to go back to compact discs.

    No wait - I take that back. They have root kits.
    Anthony Volpe