Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Microsoft Writes Bill to Snoop & Spy on You, Track You & Remove Pirated Software From Your Computer

Microsoft has written and is currently campaigning for spyware legislation that may end up giving software companies access to consumers’ computers.
The bill, known as the Computer Spyware Protection Act, would impose heavy fines on any person or company that is caught accessing a computer without obtaining permission from the owner. However, once a computer user authorizes software updates and accepts a user’s agreement, the software will be allowed to do anything in order to detect or prevent illegal or fraudulent activity.

In other words, Microsoft will be allowed to install and run software that searches for pirated copies of Excel, Word, or any other pirated software and remove those programs if it could be considered fraudulent or illegal. Technically, software companies could go as far as tracking user behavior or scan through a computer’s hard drive to search for any type of illegal activity. For example if Microsoft scanned through a computer’s browser history and found out that someone plays poker online, they could notify authorities.

Proponents of the bill claim that it will protect computer users from spyware and hackers. However, privacy experts are criticizing the bill because they argue that it will give software companies the legal authority to take control over people’s computers.

According to Ben Fenwick:
It’s supposed to protect you from predators spying on your computer habits, but a bill Microsoft Corp. helped write for Oklahoma will open your personal information to warrantless searches, according to a computer privacy expert and a state representative.

Called the “Computer Spyware Protection Act,” House Bill 2083 would create fines of up to a million dollars for anyone using viruses or surreptitious computer techniques to break on to someone’s computer without that person’s knowledge and acceptance, according to the bill’s state Senate author, Clark Jolley.

“The bill has a clear prohibition on anything going in without your permission. You have to grant permission,” said Jolley, R-Edmond. “You can look at your license agreement. It will say whether they have the ability to take that information or not.”

But therein lies the catch.

If you click that “accept” button on the routine user’s agreement, the proposed law would allow any company from whom you bought upgradable software the freedom to come onto your computer for “detection or prevention of the unauthorized use of or fraudulent or other illegal activities in connection with a network, service, or computer software, including scanning for and removing computer software prescribed under this act.”

That means that Microsoft (or another company with such software) can erase spyware or viruses. But if you have, say, a pirated copy of Excel — Microsoft (or companies with similar software) can erase it, or anything else they want to erase, and not be held liable for it. Additionally, that phrase “fraudulent or other illegal activities” means they can:
—Let the local district attorney know that you wrote a hot check last month.
—Let the attorney general know that you play online poker.
—Let the tax commission know you bought cartons of cigarettes and didn’t pay the state tax on them.
—Read anything on your hard drive, such as your name, home address, personal identification code, passwords, Social Security number … etc., etc., etc.

Expect Microsoft to be huddling with your state legislators sometime soon.

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