One fantasy that Bill Gates thankfully knows how to fulfill

One fantasy that Bill Gates thankfully knows how to fulfill

Summary: Against the backdrop of all the vendors who've been indemnifying their customers against this, that, or the other lawsuit, I keep telling people that it's highly unlikely that vendors are going to sue you if the software you got from someone else (eg: Red Hat) infringes on a patent that belongs to someone else (eg: Microsoft). You could argue that using software that infringes on someone else's patent is no different a form of misappropriation of intellectual property than outright piracy.

TOPICS: Microsoft

Against the backdrop of all the vendors who've been indemnifying their customers against this, that, or the other lawsuit, I keep telling people that it's highly unlikely that vendors are going to sue you if the software you got from someone else (eg: Red Hat) infringes on a patent that belongs to someone else (eg: Microsoft). You could argue that using software that infringes on someone else's patent is no different a form of misappropriation of intellectual property than outright piracy. But in the end, most IT vendors can't afford the bad public relations that goes along with suing customers.

Although SCO tried to pass them off as plain old suing of Linux users because of how Linux allegedly infringes on its copyrights (the basis of the suits was nothing of the sort), when it filed suits against Daimler-Chrysler and Autozone for license violations, a lot of business technology customers I talked to were left with a sour taste in their mouths. It just ain't good for business. Just supposing SCO is able to continue operating after its current legal engagements with IBM and others, will you really want to do business with such a litigious company?

In fact, even if you're closer to purposeful infringement -- for example, you're running 100 copies of Office where you only paid for 50 -- vendors more often than not prefer to stay at arms length by having the Business Software Alliance act on their behalf in "resolving" the problem (rather than approach the users directly).

But there is one type of transgression that will cause Microsoft's legal eagles to descend directly upon you like a ton of bricks and thankfully so. It's the transgression where you deceive Microsoft's customers into divulging information that they wouldn't otherwise divulge (through techniques like spyware) or you purposefully cause harm to the normal operation of their computers through phishing, spam, viruses, trojan horses and the like.

Yesterday, a US District Court shut down the Web operations of ERG Ventures LLC after the Federal Trade Commission discovered the company was violating the FTC Act which makes unfair and deceptive practices unlawful. ERG was allegedly loading spyware of the worst kind on users computers. Not only did the spyware "phone home" and change end users' settings like their browser's default home page and antivirus configurations, it downloaded other malware. In hopes of preventing any repetition of ERG's transgressions, in the lawsuit it filed, the FTC is seeking a permanent injunction against ERG and its affiliates. According to an IDG News Service story:

A U.S. district court has shut down a Web operation that is accused of secretly loading spyware and other malevolent software onto millions of computers after promising users free screensavers and video files, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said Monday.....The FTC accused ERG Ventures and an affiliate with tricking consumers into downloading a piece of spyware called Media Motor, which installs itself and downloads other malware.

In its suit, the FTC also wants the defendants to surrender all of their gains from the illegal practices. It's not the "proverbial" slap on the wrist, but you know how this story ends. When the dust settles, the people involved will find a way to do it again. They'll do business under some other name in some other state (or maybe off shore) and someone's sister-in-law will have a cousin that agrees to be the chief executive. Unless of course, they're too broke to even afford a tin cup in search of handouts (seed capital). So, if there's a time you want someone to kick these miscreants while they're down, now is that time. Enter Bill Gates.

The ink from the US District Court's findings was still drying when Microsoft filed it's own suit against the people involved with ERG. According to Microsoft's press release:

Microsoft Corp today followed the Federal Trade Commission's lead in fighting deceptive spyware operations by filing an action against persons allegedly distributing a notorious spyware program, against which the FTC recently took action. Microsoft's suit alleges that Timothy P. Taylor and others used screen savers and other seemingly benign programs as "Trojan horses" to surreptitiously install unwanted software on consumers' computers. Microsoft seeks damages from defendants on the grounds that their installation practices violate the Washington Computer Spyware Act and the Washington Consumer Protection Act.

"We commend the FTC for exposing this spyware operation," said Scott Stein, senior attorney with the Internet Safety Enforcement Team at Microsoft. "Microsoft was proud to provide technical assistance to the FTC and also to take legal action against one part of the operation targeted by the FTC.".....

...."We have a responsibility to help protect our customers and to do whatever we can to prevent this kind of practice."

Responsibility? OK, that's a little self-aggrandizing. But let's allow it. Because what other company has stepped up to the plate the way Microsoft has, sending a very clear message that if you mess with its customers, it will not only help the government track you down and punish you, it will unleash it's own Ivy-league legal fire and brimstone of its own upon you.

Although I can't remember exactly when it was, a few years back, I saw Microsoft chairman Bill Gates talking about malware -- spam in particular -- and it was quite obvious from the expression on his face that it was one subject that, for him, was like fingernails on a chalkboard.

How many times have you thought to yourself "If only I could afford an army of lawyers, I'd put that guy out of business for the good of mankind." Or, "if only I was a lawyer..." I routinely think this when telemarketers refuse to stop hounding me. I fantasize about setting a legal trap where I tell them that their calls are being recorded and I inform them that if they call me again, I will sue their company for some ungodly sum of money. Then, after they call me again and I capture it on tape, and we go to court, they can't say I didn't warn them of the exact consequences should they not respect my privacy. My fantasy includes pulling-in the best lawyers to help me set the trap in a way that they can't get out. I picture a sympathetic judge and jury, both of whom have been victimized themselves and who have no compunctions about throwing "the book" at the defendant. Can you tell? These folks make me angry. So much so that if I was so ridiculously wealthy that I could afford to legally pursue them to the end of the earth, I would do it in a heartbeat.

Not only do these miscreants apparently make Bill Gates that angry, Gates has the resources to realize the fantasy that you and I can't. And he is. Last year, after Microsoft had already established quite a track record for legally pursuing the malware community to the end of the Earth, I asked Aaron Kornblum (Microsoft’s Internet safety enforcement attorney at the time, I'm not sure if he's still the guy) who inside Microsoft was the muscle behind his legal pursuits? Who's idea was it to go after these guys and who was authorizing the expenditure of Microsoft's resources to do it. Answer? Bill Gates himself.  

Microsoft has always been quick to commend federal agencies for doing their part in clamping down on malware. But federal agencies can only do so much and don't have nearly the resources nor the resolve that Microsoft has when someone like its chairman decides to go on a personal vendetta. So, say what you will about Microsoft's products, services, business practices, and so on. And I'm sure there are those who will argue that Microsoft doesn't do anything unless it serves its own purposes -- drawing a line from legal clampdowns to eased burden on its support lines (or something like that).  We all have our opinions and in many cases, they are not very flattering. But, in this case, while Microsoft is handing out pats on the back to the FTC, let us give our own thanks to Microsoft and Bill Gates for burning its cash to do something we'd do too, if only we could afford it.

You go Bill. You go. 

Topic: Microsoft

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  • I have an

    associate named Bubba that will bust a knee cap for $500 each. Seems cheaper and more effective...
    • Kneecaps heal...

      ... hit them in the pocketbook so they can't afford medical assistance, let alone the proverbial pot in which to relieve themselves.

      While kneecapping someone provides temporary visceral satisfaction, knowing they will limp for the rest of their lives is much more rewarding.
      Confused by religion
      • ... and heels kneecap

        Thanks, but if there's one glaring lesson from the "war on drugs," it's that playing whack-a-mole doesn't get you anywhere. Kneecap one spammer, someone else takes over.

        On the other hand, make it [u]unprofitable[/u] to spam and the answer changes.
        Yagotta B. Kidding
  • M$ has two faces, David

    While I agree that this appears a good thing and I truly wish that M$ would use their influence for the good, past history shows otherwise.


    Maybe they are changing, with recent news, this appears to be the case, but many are suspicious.

    I remain Skeptical.

    I am assuming that you, David, and everyone else are aware of the Halloween documents
    and Eric Raymonds other writings.
    If not, be prepared so set aside several hours to absorb all of it.

    In particular, Halloween IX, makes juicy, but very lengthy reading,
    especially if you follow up the links.

    I did.

    In essence, M$ are paying SCO to sue IBM as part of M$s attack on Linux and Open Source (they dare not do it themselves directly, because of being a convicted Monopolist)

    At least that is my understanding, I'll let others form their own views.
    • Been there, read that

      comments like these are exactly what I meant when I said "say what you will..."

      There are plenty of opinions and theories to go around about Microsoft's product, servcies, and business practices.

      That doesn't change the fact that, in this case, Microsoft deserves some kudos for doing more than just "kneecapping" a few miscreants (in the name of the greater good).

  • An Appropriate Role Only for Government

    If Bill Gates/ Microsoft just paid their fair share of US tax then the US Federal, State and local governments would be able to fight this battle.

    This is not an appropriate role for a technology firm. In fact taking that role on turns Microsoft into a legal firm rather than a software or game technology company.

    Legal firms must be owned by other lawyers in the USA. You can not sell shares in a stock exchange to the general non legal public when a legal firm.

    A fundamental disconnect from normative reality is demonstrated by this fantasy. The fantasy Bill Gates should know how to fulfill is the one involving his dropping from public view. Polite society just doesn't need reminding that he and his kind exist.

    In Seattle we celebrate the failure of Microsoft's .Net manager to unseat the republican crime fighter in the 8th district. Burner called Reichert to congratulate him.

    It was one of the most highly financed campaigns and Darcy Burner just could not get over the stigma of being a "criminal" from the found guilty of antitrust violations Microsoft. She removed all references to Microsoft from her advertisements in the last days before the election saying instead that she was a high level successful business executive but her opponents just kept reminding the good citizens that she was connected to the mob, first identified by the great Judge Jackson - may he now be nominated for the Supreme court. A rising tide for all Amaricans lifts the American programmer.

    Frank L. Mighetto CCP
    • I beg to disagree

      >If Bill Gates/ Microsoft just paid their fair
      >share of US tax then the US Federal, State
      >and local governments would be able to fight
      >this battle.

      And you're positive that if MS and others paid more money, that it would go to this purpose? I don't think anyone can say that. Distict Attorneys have to make choices. Taxpayers have little say in how their money is micro-managed.

      >This is not an appropriate role for a technology
      >firm. In fact taking that role on turns Microsoft
      >into a legal firm rather than a software or game
      >technology company.

      I disagree there too. Would you also say that the families of murder victims shouldn't be allowed to seek damages from the killer in civil court. The support burdens placed on technology companies due to malware constitute damages to that company on multiple fronts. The cost of the support itself. The vandalism of its product, which in turn may impact reputation and sales. Etc.

      As for your other points, I'm don't believe them to be relevant in the context of this discussion. Perhaps another.... but not one that I have any interest in leading.

  • Philanthropy

    It's too easy to demonize people and companies.

    In the case of Bill and Microsoft, I'll be the first to stand up and cheer the B&MG Foundation's vaccination work, for instance -- even though I have misgivings about the source of the money [1]. That money ain't getting refunded, so I'll just cheer where it's going today.

    Spam, malware, etc. likewise. If Bill wants to do the right thing with the nuclear arsenal he has, I'm all for it. If we want the "right" to slam him and MS when they do something squinky, then we have the responsibility to cheer when they do the right thing.

    [1] Hey, I have misgivings about the way most of the USA got taken from the natives, misgivings about the way the Normans treated the Anglo-Saxons, etc. too. Same answer.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
  • the problem persists


    Eventually you need to come to grips with the fact that this problem is not being solved. Our money continues to flow into these protection rackets (MS, Symantec, etc) and our computers continue to be unstable and slow. As you and I have discussed before, we need to make fundamental shifts away from this approach if we are ever to make the computer an "appliance". I've offered the ROM approach. What's yours?

    • The ROM approach...

      [b]Eventually you need to come to grips with the fact that this problem is not being solved. Our money continues to flow into these protection rackets (MS, Symantec, etc) and our computers continue to be unstable and slow. As you and I have discussed before, we need to make fundamental shifts away from this approach if we are ever to make the computer an "appliance". I've offered the ROM approach. What's yours?[/b]

      <sigh> They never learn...

      Many, many moons ago, way back in the early 90's, someone at Tandy (yes, Radio Shack) got the bright idea to burn DOS 4.0 onto a ROM chip and have it boot the computer. It was a failure. And it wasn't entirely because the computer was a pile of junque.

      The big problem was in the fact you couldn't upgrade DOS. Nor could you patch it.

      Secondly, while the OS itself was "safe" from being wiped out should you happen to get infected with a virus, it didn't solve anything - the boot command files (autoexec.bat and config.sys) were STILL on the hard drive and were still accessible - so you would still be infected every time you booted the computer. (NO safe mode)

      Of course, this was waaay back in the day when the operating system barely took up 3 MB. Now a days, we've got Windows Vista taking up 7 GB in it's default installation.

      The same problems STILL remain - the registry still would have to reside on the hard drive - and would still be open to malicious modification. And patching Windows would be damn near impossible.

      The ONLY benefit from having Windows on a chip would be speed in booting the beast. Sure, it boots in 9.9 seconds, but what's the point if Windows can't be patched when needed?
      • ROM approach...

        We have tools to do this from a home user vantage; whip-de-do!!!

        The software on a computer has progressed as much as we currently need (MS's anyway)

        The discussion is about Bill Gates. He has appeared to have turned much more generous than he was in the past. That is commendable. I would like to congradulate him and encourage more gratious acts. There is no sense berating him when he is doing the right thing. That de-humanizes yourself.

        Perhaps the software users are a good next step? Why not give Vista and Office away to us people who got his foot in the door of businesses. I care a lot less about malware than I do about affordable software. But that is only my opinion...
        • ROM approach...

          Let me get this straight. Windows is a mess. We're all forced to deal with this patch hell, the registry abomination, and dll hell. And now we're singing Bill Gate's praise? I'm lost...

      • RE: The ROM approach...

        This one early failure is not proof that protecting software is a bad idea. Would you agree that 99% of the bits in that MS Word program are just fine and do not need to change? Patches don't tend to improve the product, just protect it from buffer overruns, etc. And if you agree that the software is sufficiently stable as to deserve protection from overwrites (malicious, accidental, or otherwise), how do you propose to do it? It's obvous that this whole patch-patch-patch thing is a mess. What is YOUR solution?

        • Problems...

          I rarely run into problems that blue screen my machine. I don't patch; buy I would if there was a specific problem that was shutting me down regularly.

          I protect myself in other ways. I use Firefox to surf the sites I trust. When aimlessly surfing or browsing in unknown waters I load Knoppix.

          Sure it takes me a few extra minutes but that is a small price to pay for security. It keeps the software setup the way I want it. No one gets in - no one tampers.

          The fact I don't pay for an AV and run my computer at 25% the speed I should more than makes up for the few minutes I lose when investigating the web.

          These patches may be tweaking your system, but I am not a trusting person. I have paid enough for my machinery and software to take chances losing things. I also back up my system and keep redundant copies of the important software as well.

          I am sure that sounds anal, but after the first crash and its costs in lost data and time I feel I would be less than shrewd to take another approach.
          • RE: Problems...

            I'm long has it been since you last rebuilt your system?