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Click Here For Trouble 8 October 2002 Edition
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Click-through "terms and conditions" or licenses are becoming increasingly common on the Net.

Whenever you download a piece of software, hand over your email address or buy something online, chances are that you're confronted with a little check box that says something like ""I have read and agree to the terms and conditions".

But do you really read those often long and hard to interpret pages of legalese before clicking on the box and continuing?

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Have you even bothered reading the many and varied click-through licenses that appear whenever you install a new piece of software?

If not, you may be in for a nasty shock.

Take the recent example of Microsoft's Media Player upgrade/bugfix.

Goodness knows how many millions of people had downloaded that seemingly harmless update before someone actually read through the license and discovered that by clicking "I Accept", users were effectively giving Microsoft the right to delete or disable some third-party software on their system, at will and without notice.

Readers Say
(updated irregularly)
  • "Money for Nothing" but... - David
  • EULA... - Mike
  • Microsoft soon to be... - Graham
  • you authorise us to... - Edwin
  • Larry Ellison... - Andrew
  • Nigerian Scam... - Peter

    From yesterday...

  • The Real Battle... - David
  • Net TV Programmes... - Peter
  • Net related TV programs... - Ben
  • Tech TV... - Charlie
  • a lack of technology/science... - Robert
  • No Net TV programmes... - Keith
  • Click Online... - Sam
  • The Net, on TV... - Dylan
  • TV Material on net/computing... - Scott
  • Have Your Say

    I'm not aware of exactly how enforceable click-through licenses are here in NZ -- but I sure wouldn't like to have to fight against some oddball term or condition that the vendor might later wish to use to my disadvantage.

    And please remember -- the lawyers who write those licenses aren't being paid to protect *your* interests -- only those of their clients.

    It's safe therefore, to assume that these are potentially "hostile" documents that deserve very careful scrutiny.

    I bet you any amount of money you like that if someone included a clause that said something like:

    In accepting this license, you authorise the vendor to make random or regular billings against your credit card as they see fit, without notice and without further approval by you

    You'd get a huge number of people who'd still click the "I Accept" box. If they later found that the vendor had billed several thousand extra dollars out of their credit card then who's to blame?

    How many times in the "real world" would someone sign a two or three page legally binding contract without giving it reasonably close scrutiny -- or even referring it to their lawyer for advice? So why don't they use this same cautious attitude to click-through licenses?

    Of course there is the small safety margin accorded by New Zealand's distance from the main supplier of online products -- the USA. If you do breach the terms and conditions of such a license (out of ignorance) then it becomes much harder for the vendor to successfully prevail in a court action against you.

    Don't bank on this always being the case though. As I'm sure many of you have already noticed, US legislators appear to be increasingly of the belief that their laws should be valid and enforced throughout the world.

    Nigerian Scammers Get Desperate
    I received a couple more Nigerian scam spams the other day inviting me to help someone free up tens of millions of US dollars in return for a whopping great commission. Nothing out of the ordinary there...

    Except that this time the spammers actually went to the trouble of filling out the form on this site's contact form to deliver their message.

    Obviously DR HAN IBRAHIM (hanss_brown@epatra.com) isn't a regular Aardvark reader or he'd have known he was wasting his time.

    I have visions of a pokey little mud hut in Nigeria somewhere with dozens of two-fingered typists all sharing a slow dial-up connection and using keyboards with broken caps-lock keys while surfing the web for contact forms that they can fill out in the hope of hooking another gullible mug.

    The big problem is that, despite a huge public awareness, there are undoubtedly people who are still falling for this scam and losing large amounts of their own (or their employer's) money.

    If you want to have your say on the contents of today's column then please do so. Only comments marked "For Publication" will (if I have time) be published in the readers' comments section.

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    Security Alerts
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