Foundation to sue Sony
for privacy violation
Posted November 18, 2005
Hugo Bryan Castillo
Copy Editor

The last couple of years, have been marked by a battle between music companies and music lovers.

The issue of illegal online music downloading has caused some companies to place restrictions on the music they produce.

Some artists have also joined this battle to protect their music and prevent illegal sharing. But would installing spying software in the CDs be considered going too far?

Recently, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a class action lawsuit against Sony BMG for installing copy protection programs in over 20 million CDs that not only restrict consumers on how they can use the music on the CD, but also monitor the customer listening to the CD and install hidden files in computers that can expose misusage of the CD without the customer’s consent.

“Between the privacy invasions and computer security issues inherent in these technologies, companies should consider whether the damage done to consumer trust and their own public image is worth its scant protection,” said Kurt Opsahl, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Founded in 1990, EFF is a leading civil liberties organization working to protect the rights of people and the digital world. It encourages music industries and the government to support online privacy.

“That is absurd what Sony is doing because I buy CDs to burn them so they wont get scratched,” said junior Spanish major Irene Beltran. “I can’t think of anything you can do bad with a CD except burn it.”

The two copy protecting programs that are installed in over 20 million Sony BMG CDs are SunnComm's, MediaMax and First4Internet's Extended Copy Protection (also known as XCP).

MediaMax, through an Internet connection, allows the company to follow the tracks the customer is listening to whenever the CD is listened to.
There is software to uninstall the program, but the customer would have to provide more personal information to get it working. Some CD titles that have the MediaMax software are: Alicia Keys’ “Unplugged,” Avril Lavigne’s “Under My Skin,” the Dave Matthews Band’s “Stand Up” and Santana’s “All That I Am.”

XCP was designed not to be noticed by the computer’s user. But once it is installed, it demeans the computer’s performance, and through Internet access, it connects to Sony BMG’s servers. The program is very difficult to remove once installed. Some CD titles that have the XCP software are: Amerie’s “Touch,” Neil Diamond’s “12 Songs” and Switchfoot’s “Nothing is Sound.”

“Initially Sony BMG denied there was a problem, saying the XCP rootkit ‘component is not malicious and does not compromise security’,” said Opsahl.

According to Opsahl, Thomas Hesse, president of Sony BMG's global digital business division, asked in an interview for a National Public Radio, “Most people, I think, don't even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?”

Bradley Fong, a freshman computer science major, feels that from a marketing standpoint, Sony is being unethical.

“Spyware is illegal,” Fong said. “It is an unfair gain on other companies to gather information on consumer behavior.”

But not everybody sees a problem with the software.

“They’re not trying to spy on everything you do, just the tracks you’re listening to,” said Adam Carranza, a sophomore political science major.
“If all they’re doing is just monitoring the tracks I’m listening to, I don’t feel it is an invasion of privacy.”

On the other hand, Sony has done nothing to fix the problem.

“On Nov. 14, 2005, EFF wrote an Open Letter to Sony BMG, asking the company to publicly commit to fixing the problems it has caused for its music fans and take steps to reassure the public that its future CDs will respect its customers' ownership of their computer,” said Opsahl.

However, Sony BMG denies there was a problem with the software.

“Consumers have a right to listen to the music they have purchased in private, without record companies spying on their listening habits with surreptitiously-installed programs,” said Opsahl. “Music fans shouldn't have to install potentially dangerous, privacy intrusive software on their computers just to listen to the music they've legitimately purchased.”

For a list of CDs that might include MediaMax or XCP software and how to spot them, visit www.eff.org.

Hugo Bryan Castillo can be reached at hcastill@ulv.edu.

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Foundation to sue Sony
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