Lawsuit: Only ET should phone home

A Boston man who claims he was threatened with a lawsuit when he refused to buy software he didn't want has turned around and sued the application's maker for privacy violations, claiming the software "phoned home" and gave a company consultant enough information to track him down.

In a lawsuit filed yesterday in US District Court in Boston, Miguel Pimentel is seeking to become the lead plaintiff in a $5-million class action suit against Transmagic, which makes computer-assisted design software, ITCA, a consulting firm that specializes in going after software pirates, and LTL, which makes licensing software.

Pimentel says he downloaded an evaluation copy of a Transmagic application, played with it enough to realize it wouldn't suit his needs and uninstalled it the same day. But, Pimentel says, three months later, he got a phone call from ITCA demanding he either buy a $10,000 annual contract for the software or face a $150,000 lawsuit for piracy - and notification to his employer that he was a software pirate.

Pimentel says ITCA found him via a copy of LTL's software embedded in the CAD application, which had forwarded a copy of Pimentel's IP, MAC and e-mail addresses to Transmagic. Pimentel charges he was not notified the software would be doing this when he downloaded it.

As part of the suit, Pimentel notes that ITCA's founder participated in a Webinar titled Converting software pirates to customers: Best practices from lead generation to closing.

Plaintiffs do not contest Transmagic's right, in principle, to implement technology to protect its intellectual property. In this case, however, Defendants exceeded the boundaries of permissible self-protection and violated consumers' privacy and property rights by surreptiously and indiscriminately engaging in surveillance and information-harvesting.



Free tagging: 



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Impressive and gratifying that someone is at least standing up to these corporate vandals and thieves who think that just because a "license agreement" is checked they can do anything they want. I applaud Pimentel and wish him the best.

I don't let anything on my Macs "phone home"

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I've got an application called "Little Snitch" installed that intercepts every attempt by an application that tries to access the Internet.

When something tries to phone home, it's blocked and a screen pops up telling me what app is making the attempt, and on what port. I can allow or deny on a case by case basis. I can even permanently deny or allow such access.

There's probably something like that for Windows. If not, there really should be.

They do make that

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There is... I know Norton's full security suite can be configured to do this as part of its firewall, and I used to use it in college to keep less-than-legally-acquired software from randomly calling out. It turns out to be hugely inconvenient, though... everything calls home these days, so you're dismissing a dozen notifications every minute.

At any rate, it's not the calling home that's a problem here; it's the fact that Transmagic thinks it can legally enforce a contract an end user never agreed to. If the courts rule they can do that (probably by some tortured interpretation of the End User License Agreement), get ready for a deluge of "freeware" apps that suddenly present you with a bill for services you've used without agreeing to pay for. If what Pimentel is alleging is true, these guys are going to be in a world of hurt.

Zone Alarm

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Zone Alarm has some nice outbound firewall features and is less bulky than Norton.

I think this suit may be misguided

I've been following up on this story over the last few days and I think the lawsuit may have overreached.

From what I can gather, Sheriff Software's copyright protection scheme doesn't include a "phone home." Their website is very detailed and nothing of the sort is even implied. Of course, DRM software has been known for its hidden backdoors, but considering Sheriff is available for a relatively nominal price and is royalty-free, it seems unlikely that they would kick out false positives for cash-grabs, especially when these cash-grab actions are performed by an unrelated company (ITCA).

More than likely, this is ITCA acting on its own, using information gleaned from Transmagic's registration process, which requires you to enter First Name, Last Name, Company, Corporate Website, Phone Number and Country before even being allowed to download the trial version.

Considering the information used against Pimentel, especially the threat to tell his employers of his "piracy," it seems to indicate that ITCA has access to this registration information and has chosen to shakedown unregistered users. It's even more troubling that they don't seem to be looking for whether or not the software is still in use. Sheriff Software does use a phone home-like self-check to ensure proper licensing, but a trial version (especially an uninstalled version) shouldn't be triggering that.

I also doubt that Transmagic was aware of how this was being handled by ITCA. ITCA seems to be a very secretive company and their web presence is nearly non-existent. Oddly enough, V.I. Labs (another company dealing with software anti-piracy) has scrubbed their website of any relation to Chris Leijten (founder of ITCA). Up until yesterday they had a webinar co-hosted by him available to view. It's completely gone now, although references can still be found via various press releases and reviews posted at other websites.

Simplest route from A to B indicates that ITCA used/is using Transmagic's registration info to go after "pirates." That's pretty ugly. Hopefully, this lawsuit will shake more info on ITCA loose but I wonder if it's too inclusive, which may lead to some sort of dismissal.