If you caught our recent coverage of the Windows Media Player trio of security holes you may have followed a link to the TechNet download site for a patch, or you might have activated Windows Update. If you did the former (though, oddly, not if you did the latter), you would have been confronted with an End User License Agreement (EULA) stating, most ominously, that:
"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."
"Reasonable efforts to post notices" somewhere on the Web. I think it's clear from the wording that MS has absolutely no intention of bringing this behavior to our attention.
Instead, 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.
This means MS will have administrator privileges on your personal computer. 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.
The pusillanimity of wrapping what amounts to a digital land-grant into a needed, critical security patch is matched only by the arrogance of assuming that Windows is now such a fundamental linchpin of a human life worth living that no retaliation in the courts or at the retail counters is conceivable. (And that's not to mention 'informal' retaliation by outraged IP warriors, which we fully expect to see.)
We've heard the Billg rubbish about Trustworthy Computing until we're sick to death of the trivial incantation. Ironically, Microsoft has just taken steps to make the Internet immensely more untrustworthy than it already is. When we know that arbitrary code will be secretely installed on our connected boxes by software vendors who are not accountable for the damage they may do, any issue of trust is obliterated.
May I suggest my (personally) favorite solution to that problem? ®