January 18, 2008Fighting Software Piracy vs. Fighting Malware
Here's one for the ethicists out there to figure out.
Let's say you are a blind or severely visually impaired PC user who must use screen reading software to turn text on the screen into audible speech.
[As a sighted person, I find it impossible to imagine what it would be like to use a graphical user interface computer (Windows, Mac, etc.) without being able to see the mouse cursor or know which window full of content is frontmost. Simply closing my eyes for a few minutes can't possibly recreate what for me would be incredible frustration. Thus, I am in awe of those who not only cope, but frequently excel at the computer using other senses exclusively.]
So, as I was saying, you rely on screen reading software. There are several commercial programs to choose from. You learn through the grapevine that you can download a registration cracker utility that lets you use one of the most popular programs without having to pay the licensing fee. The license fee isn't cheap—like Adobe Photoshop not cheap. You download that utility, run it, and, indeed, gain access to the screen reading program for free.
At this point, my "Not Kewl" buzzer goes off. While I appreciate the challenges facing the program's users, I also appreciate the cost of development and marketing of a product that a lot of people seem to like. There are plenty of competitors out there, and if the price were too high, sales would suffer. In other words, the high price, combined with the program's high popularity, indicate that the company produces a product of sustainable value.
That's one side of my tale. Onward to part two.
It turns out that the registration cracker software does a lot more than what it advertises. It also installs a background process that waits for a particular date in the future. When that date hits, the background process cuts off at the knees the screen reader that has been cracked as well as several others. This Trojan is apparently well-written, and is difficult to exorcise from an infected PC—even if you have vision (as reported by Sophos). For a blind user, the lack of screen reading facilities essentially turns the machine into a worthless hulk, and likely cuts off a primary communications medium.
One could speculate on the motivation behind the cracker's antics. A conspiracy theorist might even accuse the maker of the cracked software of releasing this Trojan as a punishment for those who try to get the expensive software for free. That, of course, is ridiculous. Is it some over-zealous anti-piracy freak? It would seem to me that there are more voluminous and juicier targets for that kind of crusade (snarky comment about Microsoft Genuine Advantage voluntarily withheld).
Was this perpetrated by a sighted programmer who got his toe tapped accidentally by a blind person's white walking stick? Or perhaps it's by a blind programmer who is eager to show that he is as blind as, but smarter than, your average blind software pirate (get that mental picture of a sea pirate with patches over both eyes out of your head!).
It's all very bizarre to me. And cruel.
While there actually are a handful of free lunches on the Internet (e.g., software from Mozilla), such gifts are few, well-known, and not spammed. Lures to free-stuff-that-normally-costs-money only lead to disaster. Even those who can see frequently fail to recognize when their pockets are being picked and their computers are being pwned.Posted on January 18, 2008 at 10:52 AM