Jim Halpert, Whistleblower?
Ironically, just two weeks earlier, I had watched an episode of "The Office" on Hulu, and also found that I could purchase the same episode on Amazon.com. Both services were quick, and painless.
I wondered, "Would NBC, a Hulu partner, make it equally as easy to watch "The Office" from the NBC site?"
So I embarked on a little journey of discovery, thanks to Jim, and the answer to the question is a resounding "NO," particularly if you're interested in a high quality version of their programs.
In fact, what I've discovered is that in order to watch ANY NBC program in "high definition," users are currently required to download an incredibly intrusive program called "The NBC Direct Service." The Service, as it affectionately refers to itself within its Orwellian License Agreement, is in actuality an invitation to place your computer, its processors and hard drives, and even your Internet connection, within a dreaded peer to peer (P2P) zombie network.
Apparently, Big Tuna wasn't kidding about the office policy comment. Few if any workplaces would be thrilled about an employee agreeing to the invasive agreement that the Service imposes on its minions. Of course, few of you would know that, since you can't even print the licensing agreement before agreeing to it, and the "copy" feature of Explorer has been disabled on the site.
I managed to use the "Control C" function while highlighting the License Agreement, and pasted it into a Word document, to begin the autopsy. (Email me if you'd like a copy).
I found some pretty unsettling terms that I think our TV Board readers would be interested in knowing about.
First, a personal preamble to the Service goon squad -- I did NOT download the Service, nor did I accept your creepy license agreement. Therefore, I'm not governed by paragraph 1 (c) IV, which essentially states that I would not be authorized to disclose or divulge the Service to any third party. For the record, I will continue to exercise my First Amendment rights, by divulging and disclosing the Service to my heart's content, and I hope every third party out there continues divulging and disclosing The Service until it perishes. Quickly.
That aside, here are the lowlights of The Service Agreement (cue the haunted organ music):
The Service manages and delivers video, music, audiovisual and other content ("Content") to you. (What "other content" are they talking about?)
BY ACCEPTING THIS LICENSE, YOU AGREE TO ALLOW FILES CONTAINING CONTENT TO BE DELETED FROM YOUR HARD DRIVE BY THE SERVICE (Note: the "caps" are courtesy of the Service's attorneys -- they REALLY want you to be pre-warned about this one! In fact, they repeat it again later in the Agreement, again all in caps, AND throw in a bonus at the end: YOU SPECIFICALLY AGREE THAT THE SOFTWARE MAY DELETE FILES AND CONTENT FROM YOUR HARD DRIVE(S) AND OTHER COMPUTER MEDIA.
Care to tell us what "OTHER COMPUTER MEDIA" you intend to delete, Mr. Service Eraser Guy?
Here's the zombie disclosure: Content files on your computer may be accessed and used for delivery to other computers with access to the Service. In order to use the Services, you hereby grant permission for the Software to utilize the processor and bandwidth of your computer for the limited purposes of (i) facilitating the transfer of digital files and communication between the users of the Software and the Services and.... So far, pretty boilerplate for P2P agreements.
But then, they give the Service access for: (ii) facilitating the transfer of digital files to servers for purposes of posting content on websites or blogs and (iii) pasting links to content in instant messages and RSS feeds...
What!!??? Would anybody at NBC Universal like to explain why on earth the Service needs to use my computer and bandwidth to post content on websites or blogs -- and to post links to content in instant messages and RSS feeds?
There's more: NBCU or the owners of DRM Technology may also download revocation lists onto your computer. No, thanks -- I don't really care to allow you to use my PC as a clearinghouse for revocation lists.
The Service automatically communicates with NBCU servers, along with the other approved vendor servers used to operate the Service. (Care to mention any names?)
You consent to periodic updates of the Service client application stored on your computer without further notice to you. (Any reason why you can't tell users you've updated applications on their computers? Ever heard of email?)
NBCU may communicate with you via email (well, I guess you have!) regarding Content you have selected or new available Content, or upgrades or other news about the Software. It is a condition of accessing NBC Direct that you agree to receive these emails. (Question: Does having your email being automatically placed into my spam folder count as being "received?")
After you install and use the Service, the Service may automatically collect information about your use ("User Information"), including without limitation (a) titles and other identifying information concerning the Content you download and/or access, (b) the dates and times you download, access and/or acquire licenses to access such Content and (c) the frequency and duration of your access to such Content, including copies of Content downloaded to your computer. (Note: By adding the phrase "without limitation," everything listed after it is irrelevant. The Service can collect ANY information from my computer).
Now, some of you might be thinking, "Certainly they have no intention of collecting personally identifiable information!"
NBCU may also collect personally identifiable information from you, such as name, email address, IP address, or geographic location which may be required to obtain certain Content or to make certain uses of the Service.
So now maybe you're thinking, "Well, they're good guys over there at NBC Universal. They probably would want this information only so that the Service can serve us better -- right? It is a "Service," after all, and NBC is in the service business. It's not like they would share this information with anybody else, right?"
NBCU may provide User Information to another Content Provider whose Content you have downloaded or accessed and to vendors or business affiliates of NBCU. (Gee, based on the size of NBCU, it might just be easier for them to list parties they are NOT allowed to provide with my personally identifiable information!)
So, what happens if something goes horribly wrong?
UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES AND UNDER NO LEGAL THEORY WHETHER IN TORT, CONTRACT OR OTHERWISE SHALL NBCU... BE LIABLE FOR ANY INDIRECT, SPECIAL, INCIDENTAL, CONSEQUENTIAL OR PUNITIVE DAMAGES (INCLUDING DAMAGES FOR LOSS OF DATA, LOSS OF YOUR COMPUTER FILES CONTAINING OR RELATED TO CONTENT OR CONTENT LICENSES, COMPUTER FAILURE OR MALFUNCTION).
And, finally, in case you're worried about your P2P connection, hardware damage, or viruses, thanks to the men in suits over at the Service, this should put your mind at ease: NBCU SHALL NOT BE LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGES TO, OR VIRUSES THAT MAY INFECT, YOUR COMPUTER EQUIPMENT OR OTHER PROPERTY ON ACCOUNT OF YOUR ACCESS TO OR USE OF THE SERVICE OR CONTENT.
What does all this mean? I'll get to that shortly, but you'll have to excuse me a moment, as I just heard a knock at my door.
That's strange, we weren't expecting anyone at this odd hour...