Know what you're signing up for in a EULA agreement: Internet Scambusters #442
Accepting a EULA or End User License Agreement when you install software or use a new mobile device may allow the provider to collect valuable information about you or impose restrictions, while taking away some of your rights.
That's why you should always make the time to check out these important legal agreements. Yet only a few of us do.
If you did review the agreement, you'd probably be amazed at what some of them say and how they can intrude on your privacy and other rights, as we explain in this week's issue.
On to today's main topic...
Why You Should Always Check Your EULA
When did you last check a EULA? Not even sure what it is?
It stands for End User License Agreement, and every time you install a program on your computer or mobile device, and sometimes even when you just use a new piece of hardware, you implicitly sign up to everything that licensing agreement says.
That can be a pain in the neck because, let's face it, most of us don't read them.
In fact, we can guess that around one-thirtieth of one percent of users read their EULAs (pronounced "you-las") since one software company that offered $1,000 to the first person to spot this prize buried away in its licensing agreement recorded 3,000 downloads before anyone claimed it.
That's not surprising. Some EULAs are 20, 30 or even 40 pages long and written in jargon that expert analysis shows can be as tough to understand as the IRS Code, which happens to be one of the most complex documents around.
Some acceptance settings even carry a statement to the effect "I have read and agree to the licensing agreement." We happily click and move on.
But recent controversy about the alleged ability of some cell phones and other mobile devices to store location information shows how important it is to check through an end user license agreement.
Sinister Clauses in EULA Sections
As is often the case with license agreements, companies insert statements both to enable them to improve their service and to protect themselves legally.
But some other EULAs contain much more sinister clauses. Here are just some of the things you could be signing up for when you click that "I agree" button.
- The product may not do what the manufacturers have claimed it will do, or look like how they may have pictured it in an ad, and you agree not to complain.
- You accept that the supplier has the right to make changes to the product, or the licensing agreement, without notice.
- They have the right to collect all kinds of information about you and your usage, not only of their program but also of other applications you have installed.
- They have the right to inspect your PC to check that you are using the software within the terms of the licensing agreement.
- You may not reinstall a program or transfer it if you switch to using a new computer.
- You can't take a screenshot or publish the results of a test of the software without the producer's agreement.
- If your PC becomes infected by a virus or other malware, any warranty associated with the software or device is void.
- You agree not to remove the program or to use certain other software to remove it.
- You are responsible for contacting the copyright owners of any music you burn on to a CD.
- You give the software developer the right to insert pop-ups on your screen.
- The developer may also pass on information about you to third parties.
These examples -- some of them are crazy, aren't they? -- are taken from real EULAs, though some have since been removed or altered when their contents were exposed.
Above all, most EULAs stipulate that your use of a program, and sometimes even the opening of the packaging, implies agreement.
Get to Know Your EULA
So what can you do to protect yourself and your rights when you install software or begin using new devices?
Well, first, and most obviously, take the time to read or, at the very least, scan the EULA.
Many of them are not as complex as the worst examples. And some companies have gone out of their way to simplify the language.
Second, consider using a piece of EULA analysis software.
One of the most popular is the free (to individual users) EULAlyzer.
This works by scanning a EULA (with the program running, you move a crosshair over the text of the agreement) for words linked to advertising, tracking data collection, privacy and third-party agreements.
We must make clear that we have no connection with the provider of this software and cannot vouch for its effectiveness.
But at least one member of the Scambusters team has been a regular user for some time.
And it's worth considering that free software logically is more likely to take liberties with collecting and using information.
That may be the payoff for the developer. So if there's no moolah, study the EULA!
Finally, of course, if you don't like what you read, try to find an alternative product.
At the end of the day, you might not find an alternative and will have to choose between either not installing or living with the conditions the licensing agreement imposes.
But, in these days of increasing privacy worries, at least you'll know the risk you're taking. You read the EULA!
Time to close -- we're off to take a walk. See you next week.