Here’s one of those things that might be trivial, or it might be enormously significant. There’s no way to be sure – but this is not a time when I have a very high opinion of the decisions made for us by big businesses.

Microsoft included language in the license agreement for Windows Media Player 7.1 that was very very scary. (See my report on November 5.) The language is repeated in the license agreement for a security update that was made available late last week for Media Player 8.0 – more people noticed it this time, so it’s getting more press. Think very carefully about what this means:

“You agree that in order to protect the integrity of content and software protected by digital rights management (‘Secure Content’), Microsoft may provide security related updates to the OS Components that will be automatically downloaded onto your computer. These security related updates may disable your ability to copy and/or play Secure Content and use other software on your computer. If we provide such a security update, we will use reasonable efforts to post notices on a web site explaining the update.”

Got that? Essentially Microsoft is asserting total control over your personal computer. As The Register puts it, “Microsoft has just assumed the right to attack your computer and surreptitiously install code of its choosing. You will not be warned; you will not be offered an opportunity examine the download or refuse it. MS will simply connect remotely and install what it will, or install it secretly when you contact them. What they feed you may be infected with viruses; it may break your applications, corrupt data files, destroy weeks or months or even years of work, but you’ll have no recourse if it does. By downloading this WMP critical security patch, which you must do to operate WMP safely, you’ll agree to give Billg deed and title to your personal property and to leave Microsoft immune from legal retaliation if they damage your machine.” Nasty stuff. Courtesy of our friends in the entertainment industries, I hasten to add.

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