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[P]
Real Networks is up to no good . . . again

By stimuli in News
Thu Mar 09, 2000 at 11:18:41 PM EST
Tags: Security (all tags)
Security

It seems that the latest Real players automatically install the Comet Cursor on end user's machines. The Comet Cursor is a stupid little cursor changing gizmo, but it also sends all kinds of statistics about your browsing habits back to the Comet folks. Quite Wicked. See the press release here.


I don't think I'm paranoid on the privacy issue, but something like this pushes way past the envelope of good taste. It sucks that there aren't any multimedia streaming protocols that don't require that we get in bed with the devil.

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Real Networks is up to no good . . . again | 25 comments (25 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
I think things like this bring up a... (5.00 / 1) (#6)
by analog on Thu Mar 09, 2000 at 06:55:36 PM EST

analog voted 1 on this story.

I think things like this bring up an interesting question, as completely bizarre as it may seem. That being, "who owns my computer?". One of the reasons I don't use Windows anymore is because it seems like I can't use a Windows program without having a ton of other crap I don't want installed with it. Not to mention the "you can't even hiccup without our written permission" EULA's.

I've complained in the past about some of Microsoft's abuses of Windows along these lines and actually been told "it's their operating system, they can do what they want with it". I'm sorry, but if I pay a hundred bucks for something, especially something I install on hardware I also paid for, then by god I'm going to tell it what to do, not the other way around.

Another thing that really galls me about this is that in any other industry, it would be blatantly illegal. If I bought a phone that relayed information about my activities to the manufacturer, the retailer and manufacturer both would be looking at criminal charges, to say nothing of the civil liabilities. Why people seem to believe it's okay when it's done through a computer instead is beyond me.

Re: I think things like this bring up a... (none / 0) (#9)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Mar 10, 2000 at 02:38:44 AM EST

Jesus Christ Man! Has this world gone to hell!?

Am I the only one whose mind this has blown? THIS IS A CALL TO ACTION for all hackers out there in the ether!

Start a local e-tribe, and band together to stop this menace before the human race destroys itself!

I propose a coding ethic, called the coda ethic. My strike team and I are going to complete this coda ethic, and you will be SURE to hear from us again.

WE need a programming league, an ethic!! Any ideas are appreciated :)

[ Parent ]
Ok, I like the story a lot, but I d... (3.00 / 1) (#1)
by rusty on Thu Mar 09, 2000 at 07:11:23 PM EST

rusty voted -1 on this story.

Ok, I like the story a lot, but I don't like the editorializing. If anyone thinks they can do a better job prompting discussion on why this is a Bad Thing, please resubmit this article.

____
Not the real rusty

(I mentioned something similar in... (3.00 / 1) (#4)
by Demona on Thu Mar 09, 2000 at 07:16:40 PM EST

Demona voted 1 on this story.

(I mentioned something similar in Alexa Sells Out to Amazon wherein the latest version of Alexa, a once small, efficient and arguably useful tool, now includes Amazon's "zBubbles" shopping assistant -- whether you want it or not.)

Naturally I'll direct the honorable Usenauts to xiph.org, where the author of cdparanoia is working on "a patent-clear, fully open general purpose audio encoding format standard". As with the Open Video Disc folks (can't find the link right now, sorry), the safest (legally) and most satisfying (technically) solution is to create a superior alternative. In the meantime, educate people as to the risks without going Chicken Little, empowering them to make informed decisions about the risks they take when they use certain hardware/software/ISP's.

Although bread and circuses may still win the day, I think we'll yet see some severe backlash wherein the average consumer increasingly desires to bite the hand that (sometimes forcibly) feeds them such tripe. Just because newbies have never known a net without spam doesn't mean they like it more than the old-timers. More specific to this article, I'm seeing more folks starting to gripe about the poorer quality, enforced advertising and deliberately crippled capabilities of most commercial video when compared to something simple and straightforward like MPEG1. (Even on a fast connection, RealVideo and QT4 both suck golf balls through garden hoses for most practical applications.)

-dj

touch me i'm sick

That really sucks. Its a good thin... (2.00 / 1) (#3)
by joeyo on Thu Mar 09, 2000 at 08:07:55 PM EST

joeyo voted 1 on this story.

That really sucks. Its a good thing I still have the isntaller for RealPlayer 7 on my hard drive. Maybe I should start mirroring it. About comet, I've surfed through a few websites recently which tried to auto-install the commet curser. I didn't know what it was so I didn't mess with it, but now im glad that I avoided it!

--
"Give me enough variables to work with, and I can probably do away with the notion of human free will." -- demi

Argh, Comet is EVIL.... (none / 0) (#5)
by fvw on Thu Mar 09, 2000 at 09:31:32 PM EST

fvw voted 1 on this story.

Argh, Comet is EVIL.

One more instance of "they should b... (3.50 / 2) (#2)
by rongen on Thu Mar 09, 2000 at 09:31:51 PM EST

rongen voted 1 on this story.

One more instance of "they should be paying you". Info about people's habits (especially consumer behaviour) is a resource. It's like krill for whales. Little bits that add up. It's win/win for these big companies when they get you to fill out a form, or otherwise give them info, you are usually already accessing one of thier services. It's funny how you can download GNU software without filling out a million personal info forms, but can't go near a commercial site without coughing up a loogie of consumer info. Yuck. Leave me out of it! :)
read/write http://www.prosebush.com

Re: Real Networks is up to no good . . . again (none / 0) (#7)
by xah on Fri Mar 10, 2000 at 01:29:42 AM EST

I like the editorializing because it stirs things up. It makes you think. Now, as for this story, I don't think so. I'm running Real Player 7 G2 and there is no sign of the Comet Cursor. It doesn't show up in the Win 98 task list. I think this may be "bundled" as in bundled with certain products. Maybe if you buy a CD from them, you get Comet Cursor as an option. It doesn't sound that scary to me, although I abhor Comet Cursor like the poster.

Re: Real Networks is up to no good . . . again (none / 0) (#8)
by rusty on Fri Mar 10, 2000 at 02:23:37 AM EST

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for editorializing in general. I thought the editorializing on this particular article left something to be desired, though.

Anyway, that press release claims to be from Oct 99. Wonder why your version doesn't have the Evil(tm) Comet Cursor?

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Re: editorializing (none / 0) (#11)
by rongen on Fri Mar 10, 2000 at 06:00:33 AM EST

Are you saying that you would prefer if story posts were more than small op-ed pieces that have a brief precis of the article followed by a single statement that is really just a declaration of the author's bias? I agree, if that is the case.

I can find my own links (well, not really, I actually find just about every link from this site to be worth looking at---including this one). I really come here for the writing of the community. There is nothing better than reading a well-written and thought provoking piece put forward by someone who is not a professional author. If nothing else it gives me hope that the world hasn't completely gine to the dogs yet! :) For example, I really like OS opinion.

I haven't posted a story here because I haven' t found a good one that fits the bill yet, and is worth taking the time to write something up that is worth reading and will stimulate discussion. I am thinking of doing a piece on the software engineering course I am taking (a novice's perspective, soliciting comments from the more skilled) relating the way computer scientists types think about design and engineering compared to how traditional ideas of civil and social engineering are used in our society. But I haven't yet because:

  1. The idea isn't fully developed yet
  2. I haven't taken the time to write it up in such a way that it would be worth presenting to you people for discussion.

For my two cents, I'd like to see story submissions that are richer in content and ideas. There are plenty of sites that have lists of links to go to. I want lists of ideas to discuss!

Thanks. :)
read/write http://www.prosebush.com
[ Parent ]

Re: editorializing (5.00 / 1) (#14)
by rusty on Fri Mar 10, 2000 at 10:33:21 AM EST

Are you saying that you would prefer if story posts were more than small op-ed pieces that have a brief precis of the article followed by a single statement that is really just a declaration of the author's bias? I agree, if that is the case.

Yes! That's exactly it. I posted a comment to that effect a while ago (which I can't find now), but your phrasing is more succinct. Unfortunately, many of us have spent a long time reading slashdot-style journalism ($story = $title.$article_summary.$statement_of_bias) and it gets stuck in the head as "the" way stories are supposed to look. I would always prefer intelligent argument to a brief statement of bias. And I would also prefer a longer opinion piece, even on news that is not "new" to most of the audience, to being the first to report something.

Hopefully having sections will help with this. There will be a "news" area for quick blurbs about the newest thing, but also opinion areas for editorials, and extended discussions. I plan on having a "Discussion in Depth" section, with a very high post threshold, so that only the most interesting topics will get posted, and they'll last for a while.

There's a place here for all kinds of reporting, but my preference is for longer pieces, personally.

Your idea sounds interesting-- I hope you get a chance to shape it up into an article. :-) Another thing I'd really like to see is software reviews. I don't think we've really had any yet, and this is the sort of place where they'd be read with interest, IMO.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

more info (none / 0) (#20)
by xah on Fri Mar 10, 2000 at 03:56:19 PM EST

I am using Real Player 7 Basic on Win 98. (Yes, I must switch to Linux ASAP. I have a problem and I admit it.) I do not have Comet Cursor. Under View | Preferences, however, there is a "check for updates" button. Clicking there results in a list of downloadable software packages, including Real Player plug-ins. On the list is Comet Cursor.

As a logical matter, since I was given the option to install Comet Cursor by Real Player 7, that must mean that Real has not (yet) installed Comet Cursor on my system.

[ Parent ]

Re: Real Networks is up to no good . . . again (none / 0) (#10)
by nastard on Fri Mar 10, 2000 at 03:14:54 AM EST

Thats the thing about binary-only. We have no idea what they are putting in the software. We're lucky they even told us about this. Some kind of conspiracy, I'm sure of it. Who knows what other info they're stealing from us.

Or maybe I'm just paranoid :)



Re: Real Networks is up to no good . . . again (none / 0) (#18)
by bobsquatch on Fri Mar 10, 2000 at 01:32:18 PM EST

Thats the thing about binary-only. We have no idea what they are putting in the software. We're lucky they even told us about this. Some kind of conspiracy, I'm sure of it. Who knows what other info they're stealing from us.

The whole point of binary-only is to prevent you from knowing what's in it. There is a conspiracy, and it's mechanism is not even hidden -- it's the NDA you have to sign to get the job that gives you the paycheck so you can eat. That the compiled-and-NDA'd secrecy has two purposes is beside the point -- yes, it is useful to keep your competitors from copying your product, but yes, it is useful to gather information from your customers without them knowing they're being big-brothered.

Why this straightforward analysis is derided (by some, not necessarily the poster above) as "paranoid X-file delusion" is beyond me. Like they've never seen an NDA? Geez.

[ Parent ]

That's odd! (none / 0) (#12)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Mar 10, 2000 at 08:47:21 AM EST

I downloaded RealPlayer for the first time onto my computer just Wednesday this week, and no sign of any evil cursors anywhere!

I do make sure that as many privacy checkboxes are checked or unchecked as appropriate, though.

Re: That's odd! (none / 0) (#13)
by bmetzler on Fri Mar 10, 2000 at 09:31:24 AM EST

I downloaded RealPlayer for the first time onto my computer just Wednesday this week, and no sign of any evil cursors anywhere!

I rebuilt my computer a few weeks ago, and after I was done, it had Comet Cursor installed. I sure didn't know how it got installed. Made sense that it came from Real Player though.

-Brent
www.bmetzler.org - it's not just a personal weblog, it's so much more.
[ Parent ]
Re: That's odd! (none / 0) (#15)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Mar 10, 2000 at 10:46:19 AM EST

I don't think I did the full install - just selected one or two things to be installed ... not sure what tho.

[ Parent ]
RealPlayer and Comet Cursor (5.00 / 1) (#16)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Mar 10, 2000 at 12:23:19 PM EST

Copy of my post last night to BugTraq: I wanted to respond directly to your concerns regarding RealPlayer and privacy. First to set the record straight, the version of Comet Cursor distributed with RealPlayer does NOT transmit GUIDs. RealNetworks is committed to protecting privacy, and we specifically worked with Comet Systems to ensure that their software met our standards for informed consent. We decided along with Comet Systems to remove any GUID from the version distributed by RealNetworks. As a result, the Cursor software distributed with RealPlayer 7 could not be used in any way to track any individuals' behavior. In addition, it is very important to understand that selecting the RealPlayer version with Comet Cursor is entirely optional during the download process and that Comet Cursor's existence as part of some RealPlayer bundles is clearly disclosed when you download, along with links to Comet's privacy statement. ...please refer to the privacy policy that Comet Cursor has posted relating to the version bundled with RealPlayer, and to which we link from our Web site: http://www.cometsystems.com/help/real_privacy.shtml. I hope that this addresses your questions. RealNetworks is very concerned that our privacy practices are accurately described; if you have any further questions about our privacy policies or practices, please email us at privacy@real.com. Regards, Keela Robison Product Manager, RealNetworks Consumer Products

Re: RealPlayer and Comet Cursor (none / 0) (#17)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Mar 10, 2000 at 12:46:29 PM EST

is the AH that posted this comment here really from real networks?! wow!

[ Parent ]
Re: RealPlayer and Comet Cursor (none / 0) (#19)
by xah on Fri Mar 10, 2000 at 03:53:00 PM EST

Thanks for the update. I find it pretty amazing how swift the response is from Real. Maybe some AH posted this piece from a press release, however.

[ Parent ]
Re: RealPlayer and Comet Cursor (none / 0) (#22)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Mar 10, 2000 at 09:30:34 PM EST

Yep, it's actually me, direct from RealNetworks. As I indicated, I copied the response from a message I sent to the Bugtraq listserve earlier, but otherwise the message is entirely genuine. Although the language may sound like corporate BS (I can't help it -- I'm a product manager after all), it's all true and we want everyone to understand the facts.

[ Parent ]
Confirmed via email (none / 0) (#23)
by rusty on Fri Mar 10, 2000 at 09:50:01 PM EST

The above AH is indeed Keela Robison (not a typo-- they misnamed you in this CNN story), of RealNetworks. I for one am impressed that they were on top of this story... ok, which one of you works there? ;-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Re: Real Networks is up to no good . . . again (5.00 / 1) (#21)
by daninja on Fri Mar 10, 2000 at 06:09:52 PM EST

Q: why would anyone do such a thing?
A: because they can.

If you leave your front door wide open all the time chances are the contents of your home will be stolen. Most operating systems are like houses without front doors, they give one next to nothing in the way of protection of harmful apps. So you can be secure by not installing any software on your system (somewhat analogous to not having anything in your house to steal), or you can tolerate the insecurity that is part of using a computer these days.

Or you can get mad as hell and not take it anymore. But don't get mad at Real Networks - the door was wide open, they were just taking a peek inside. Get mad at your OS for not having a front door that you could close.

The OS needs to give the user -

No wait, conventional termilogy works against the point I'm trying to make, if someone is "using" something there's not much implied in the way of rights, perhaps "owner" is a better term, although right now I'm using an OS that I don't own (I'm in the office) ..."master" is a good term I think, I don't own the OS I'm using right now but it's entirely appropriate that I be considered its master, so -

The OS needs to give its master control. The master needs to be able to clearly dictate policy about what applications are and are not allowed to do, for instance:

  • Don't reveal any of this class of data unless I (the master) explicitely says so.
  • Don't mess with system objects like cursors unless I explicitely say so.
  • etc.

I'm really surprised that this is not considered a major shortcoming of OS's. With the proliferation of software, and increased acceptance of freeware as viable software, and the proliferation of connectivety, it's only going to get worse. Real Networks atleast has some interest in protecting its image, therefore responds to feedback from the world, but there's got to be alot of forces out there that don't have an image to protect and will not mind corrupting your system to do things not in your best interest.

The only thing in a position to protect one from such forces is one's OS.

When will it start doing so?

Re: Real Networks is up to no good . . . again (none / 0) (#24)
by Anonymous Hero on Sat Mar 11, 2000 at 03:10:50 PM EST

NO my jooky friend, you are wrong.

Just because my front door is open, it gives you NO right to come in and murder my parents.


Just because 'I can' is not a valid argument.

I thank you for your comment.

[ Parent ]
Re: Real Networks is up to no good . . . again (none / 0) (#25)
by daninja on Mon Mar 13, 2000 at 02:45:01 PM EST

Just because my front door is open, it gives you NO right to come in and murder my parents.
I don't think what Real Networks has done (or what they have been recently accused of having done), as heinous as it might be, is in any remote way analogous to murdering your parents.

And I didn't mean to imply that an open door gave anyone the right steal or murder.

[ Parent ]

Real Networks is up to no good . . . again | 25 comments (25 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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