Sure, you, too, are ignoring your software security! That is unless you are one of the 0.1 percent of users who read the End User License Agreement (EULA, also known as software license). Otherwise, you sign contracts blindfolded because that box full of legal mumbo-jumbo when you install a program… yes, it is a contract!
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Either way, people do not read the EULA. We are usually curious about what the new software will bring when downloading and installing software. That EULA is just one more thing to drop time on because it is generally not readable quickly, hence not read at all. But indeed, the next thought that arises is: what have you agreed to when you clicked I agree?
Especially with freeware, there can be an even greater problem. Freeware is not always free. Sure, it is not free to reverse engineer, modify, or redistribute freeware, but there is also the kind of freeware disguised as adware or spyware.
Remember from about five years ago when Gator created a storm of protest? Its GAIN Publishing End, User License Agreement, stated that the user automatically agreed to install the GAIN AdServer software when accepting the EULA. The software license allowed the company to install software that collected certain identifiable information about web surfing and computer usage. This software came immediately with the freeware and was established in the same process. In the end, this resulted in a display of all types of ads on the user’s computer.
Next, the EULA mentioned that Gator even uses popular uninstallers for their tools wh, ich countless people trusted to remove this unwanted stuff from their machines. Users were also prohibited from using devices like web monitoring programs or similar on the GAIN AdServer and its messages, thus eliminating all possible control. Such clauses no longer related to software protection against cracking and were more than a bridge too far for many users.
So, if all is specified in the product’s software license, it can help decide what you want to install! Indeed, the software balancing at the edge of legal boundaries will try to straighten out what is not completely right. And you guessed it correctly: that is most frequently revealed in the EULA.
In lawyer terms, an End User License Agreement is a legal contract between a software application author and the user. A license grants the user the right to use computer software in a specific and well-determined way. Usually, a EULA specifies the number of computers a user can use the software on, and reverse engineering, cracking, or any other form of illegal piracy is prohibited. Any legal rights they are forfeiting by agreeing to the EULA. The user is usually asked to check a button to accept the terms of the EULA or consent to it by opening the shrink-wrap on the application package or simply using the application. The user can refuse to agree by returning the software product for a refund or clicking I do not accept when prompted to accept the EULA during an install. The software installation is usually ended. For websites, the TOS (terms of service) is the legal counterpart of the End User License Agreement for Software.
So far, all may seem quite normal. However, the software license is infamous for containing stealthy clauses that maintain preposterous restrictions on software users’ behavior while providing the software developer or vendor with highly intruding powers. For example, Microsoft software licenses allow the company to gather information about its system and its use and provide it to other organizations. They also grant Microsoft the right to change the user’s computer without requesting permission. Don’t be mistaken by thinking this is a Microsoft-only affair; software licenses frequently have a clause allowing vendors to change users’ systems without asking or notifying them.
Remark that adding bad things to software has mostly happened with freeware. However, lately, there seems to be a shift of the same bad habits towards shareware and trialware; yes, the terms of service of some well-known companies have been under fire.
One might feel that little can be done to fight a bad EULA or TOS. Well, that is not entirely true; recently, there have been cases where popular services have changed their terms of service because of the user’s aversion to a few too-flagrant times within them. Hence, complaining does work indeed!
A basic idea behind the EULA is quite reasonable: to protect the vendor from software piracy. But the worry is that software licenses are getting increasingly restricted constantly. e.g., Microsoft started in Vista’s EULA to prohibit the installment in virtual machines though this is what researchers and reviewers are using all the time.
Recently, the trend to include more and more limitations on what users can do with the software they pay for has become quite distressing. Certain license agreements now disallow users from releasing or publishing information about the functioning of the software. That prevents reviewers and software security experts from reporting their experiences with a specific piece of software. Such determinations are way past protection against illegal practices.
It is Attorney material, but you may wonder whether these licenses are legal. According to lawyers, though, most of them hold up in court, except if the text is not reasonably understandable. Another exception concerns minors, mostly liberated from the agreements made this way.
Either way, a EULA might not be lawfully enforceable is of little comfort because it is being enforced on you whether you like it or not. Once the program is installed on your PC, the damage is done, and it doesn’t even matter if the signed contract is legally invalid. Already simply by using the computer, the user is confirming his part of the contract.
The software license’s primary idea – creating a clear legal defense against illegal software piracy – has been bypassed. Well, be warned, a computer mouse click could produce a lot of trouble. Hence, only one piece of advice can be given: throw away that blindfold, read the EULA, and that does not apply to freeware only.