Vendors should stop treating customers like common criminals

Anyone who thinks the computer they’ve spent their hard-earned dollars to purchase is “theirs” is, it would seem, sadly mistaken.These days, it’s apparently “owned” by the software vendors.

Why else would they assert the right to snoop at their whim, and to cause the machine to cease to function if they believed, rightly or wrongly, that the installed software was pirated?

Why are customers assumed to be guilty until proven innocent – over and over and over? Why are they expected – nay, required – to allow the vendor electronic access to their systems at virtually any time?

What other industry, aside from the penal system, works under the premise that its customers are crooks?

Although the specific event that’s set me off this time is the Windows Vista requirement that the operating system be routinely validated not once, but several times a year, plus every time you want to download patches, under the covers nonsense of various kinds has been going on for many years, and has become more and more intrusive and less respectful of customers.

I remember when I first installed a desktop firewall on a Windows 98 PC, and discovered that a program was surreptitiously “phoning home” without my knowledge or permission.

It took dedicated ferreting around in the Windows registry to stop what I later found out was some sort of automatic update mechanism (or so the vendor said, though it slowed the system a lot for a mere update check).

Over the years, I’ve seen many kinds of behind the scenes reporting and/or updating mechanisms install themselves (usually without asking), whether I want them or not, and engage in what was often extremely invasive behaviour, sometimes slowing down the computer and interfering with what I was doing.

Even a printer, of all things, kept trying to access the Internet. It was, apparently, attempting to send usage stats to its manufacturer, without my knowledge or consent. In this case, there was a way to turn it off, but you had to, A: know what it was up to, and B: find the darned shutoff. The vendor has since promised to make this opt-in, instead of opt-out.

1984, anyone?

While I understand vendors’ need to protect their intellectual property (and their revenue streams), and their desire to glean information about product performance and keep their software updated, their tactics have become downright rude. Piracy is a problem, but treating everyone like a criminal is not the solution. It’s as though every time you went in to buy gas, you were required to prove your car wasn’t stolen.

Where are the customer’s rights in all this? Read a licence agreement some time – it’s scary. What about our privacy and security – is our intellectual property safe (how do we know what is or isn’t being reported to the vendors prowling our systems)? Where’s our choice in what is or is not done to our computers? And what about our right to quietly enjoy what we’ve paid good money for, without constantly being told to empty our pockets to make sure we’re not making off with the silverware?

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