I confess I was unaware of this until I received David Pogue's Circuits column in my in-box today:
The story goes like this. Starting in June 2004, Sony BMG records began copy-protecting its pop-music CD's. Over the months, the company has used several software schemes for preventing you, the customer, from making illegal copies of its discs. But 20 albums are protected by a scheme devised by a company called First 4 Internet-and it's caused an incredible online furor.
These CD's, all bearing "Content Protected" labels on the packaging (meaning "copy protected"), do something very sneaky if you try to play them on a Windows PC: they install a proprietary watchdog program that prevents you from copying the CD more than twice. (On a Macintosh or Linux machine, these CD's play just fine, without any copy protection.)
Last week, a programmer and blogger named Mark Russinovich dug a little deeper, and found out something disturbing: the Sony watchdog program not only installs itself deep in the core of Windows-it's what's called a rootkit-but it also makes itself invisible.
Now while, as a copyright holder, I can appreciate Sony BMG's anxiety over illegal copying of music to which they own the copyright, but to install stealth software on people's computers? As Pogue says, that is "creepy."
It also speaks to the attitude that seems to predominate megacorporations today: the customer is a problem to be managed.
Why Sony BMG thought it would be a good idea to pre-emptively treat people like criminals, I have no idea. It sounds like the lawyers are running the show there.
And why they thought they could get away with trespassing on people's computers, installing secret malware that actually disables computer function ... well, that just boggles my mind.
The contempt of it!
And what ices it is Sony's refusal to apologize for this invasive, offensive and contemptuous behavior towards the customer.
I was also surprised at how dismissive Sony BMG and First 4 Internet seem to be. "It's a tempest in a teapot," Mr. Gilliat-Smith says. "It's benign content protection. It's not malware, it's not spyware-it's innocent.
["]Consumers, for eight months, have been using these discs with positive feedback. When the issue arose, we addressed it very quickly."
I wondered if he could even understand why consumers might feel a bit violated. I pointed out that the usual damage-control plan for public-relations disasters (see also Tylenol; Perrier; Pentium bug) is not to haughtily dismiss customer fears, but to apologize profusely.
But the closest thing Mr. Gilliat-Smith would say is, "We understand what the concern was, but there was no intent. We reacted as quickly as we could, took responsive issues. And now, hopefully, we move on."
Translation: Hey, I stopped hitting you! Whaddayagonnadoabowdit?