Sony’s CDs

Since I don’t own a Windows computer, and I don’t buy many CDs, I’ve been a little confused by the recent coverage of Sony’s silly “copy protection” software.

This started a few days ago when I first listened to an NPR technology podcast in which both the interviewer and the interviewee were grossly ignorant of what they were talking about. (The particular mp3 file is here and the NPR technology podcasts are here.)

The reporter stated that the CD might contain a “rootkit”, so named because, quoth she, “it’s at the root of the computer.” Brilliant. (For a better, and actually accurate, description of what a rootkit is, see Wikipedia.) It gets installed, she went on, after “popping a CD into your hard drive.” Again, brilliant. And that “rootkit codes create secret spaces in your computer, where all kinds of things might happen.” Clear explanation, hmm? Sheesh.

Next, she spoke to some talking head at Sony, who stated, in a brilliant moment of “let them eat cake,” “Most people don’t even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?” He went on to say that the software isn’t spyware, because “no information ever gets communicated back to the user.” Yes, that’s a direct quote. What is communicated to me by these quotes is that Sony cares *only* about their bottom line, and intends to exploit the customer in any way possible in order to further that goal. No, I’m not anti-capitalist. Yes, I believe that companies legitimately exist to make money. But, at the same time, I refuse to do business with companies who are totally self-interested, and don’t care a whit for the (to quote Prince Charles) “bloody people.”

I’m also perplexed by the claim that the software hides itself. To quote the San Francisco Chronicle, the software “hides deep in the Windows operating system”, and “is difficult to remove without damaging the computer.” What does that mean, exactly?

Software consists of files, and, in the case of Windows, entries in the Registry. To remove the software, you identify and remove the files and the Registry entries, right? The only think I can imagine interfereing with that is if the software is modifying dll files from other applications, or if it is actually inserting code into, say, the kernel. Files can’t be hidden, and registry entries can’t be hidden, because they’re just files on a filesystem.

Now, granted, I don’t use Windows, so I may be ignorant here, but if a file *can* be hidden, then Microsoft is at least as much to blame here as Sony. Having files be genuinely “hidden” in some sense is just plain dopey and bad design. And, presumably, in order to be even there at all in any real sense, something (the software that wants to use them) must be able to find them and use them, so they’re not really hidden.

So once again, I’m perplexed as to how software can “hide itself” in any real sense.

Maybe that’s because I use a real operating system.