More details on the onerous MTV Urge license agreement

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?

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.