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Greg Low (The Bit Bucket: IDisposable)

Ramblings of Greg Low (SQL Server MVP, MCM and Microsoft RD) - SQL Down Under

EULAs, Passwords and the Apple AppStore

One thing about being around the industry since the days when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, is that you can get to be a little philosophical about the industry at times. There are two things that I've been thinking about again today, where we seem to be in total denial. One is EULAs; the other is passwords.

Has anyone tested EULAs in court lately? It's hard to imagine most of them being very enforceable. More importantly, does anyone EVER read them? I was amused a few years back when I was installing an application, clicked over the EULA and the application said "how could you possibly have read that in 1.076 seconds?". That's a fair cop.

Today though, it's the EULAs at the Apple AppStore that just seem totally stupid. A while back, I installed the genuine Twitter app on my iPhone. Previously I was using Halo. The new Twitter app seemed pretty cool, right up till the day it had an update available. On the screen of my phone, it kept prompting me to update it. So I thought "hey this is cool, I'll update it". To update the FREE application, I had to log in to the AppStore. Doing that on the phone is a bit cumbersome but ok. But after I did so, it tells me that I now need to agree to the new AppStore terms and conditions. Once I had done that, it then told me that I should try my "purchase" again.

But the super annoying thing is that EVERY time I go to update the Twitter app, the AppStore terms and conditions seem to have changed. So this happens EVERY time. But what really impresses me about this process, is that the terms and conditions that you need to agree to occupy 58 PAGES. Has ANYONE EVER read all those 58 pages? And do I really need to read and agree to 58 pages of terms and conditions every time I want to update my free Twitter app? On a phone? You have to be kidding. I'd love to see the page view statistics from Apple that show how many people have EVER retrieved most of those pages.

The other mild form of insanity that I'm thinking about today is passwords. We always tell users to:

  • Use different passwords for every system
  • Make the passwords very complex
  • Change the passwords regularly
  • Never write down the passwords

Users get blamed when they don't follow the rules but I'm sorry, is it even humanly possible to follow the rules? We have to stop this sort of nonsense if we ever want our industry taken seriously by the general public. And I think I have to go back to using Halo instead of the free genuine Twitter app.

And as for the courts, I can well imagine many judges not being too convinced about enforcing rules that it's almost impossible for a human to comply with.

Published Wednesday, January 19, 2011 9:00 PM by Greg Low

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WiggityWiggityWiggityWhack said:

Bah, I barely even made it through your article.  I never read the EULA.  

I tried once and my brain started throbbing from all the legalese -- who could possibly understand all that garbage???

January 19, 2011 6:01 AM

TiborKaraszi said:

Indeed. I have the very same thought, on both accounts. :-)

January 19, 2011 6:04 AM

SQLChap said:

I sometimes read the EULA but even when I do I'm not sure I understand it.

Robert makes an interesting point which is what do you do if you don't agree.

If you don't agree to the istore policy can you take your apple device back to the shop for a full refund or can you load your applications from an alternative store?

January 19, 2011 6:40 AM

Jerry said:

I concur on both counts!  A few years ago I received some disks with some demo software (you remember disks?).  The flap on the disk container was sealed with a sticker that said, "By tearing this seal you agree to the EULA contained within."  No lie.

When the salesman called up a couple days later and asked how the demo was going, I told him I was unable to open the disk container because I had to agree to something I couldn't read until after I had agreed with it.  He had no idea how to proceed at that point.  It was quite funny.

Obviously, I really had no intention of using the software or else I would have gone ahead and opened it. It just gave me a great opportunity to watch the sales guy squirm a bit.  :)  But you are right, I cannot see how that ever could have stood up in court.

January 19, 2011 2:21 PM

Nick said:

Interestingly enough while EULA's may not have been tested recently, Acceptable Usage Policies have been tested. With the Western Australian Supreme Court upholding a conviction against a woman for breaching an AUP.  It seems once you breach an AUP you are liable for criminal sanctions for unauthorised access.

January 19, 2011 5:22 PM

merrillaldrich said:

One of my favorite aspects of EULA's is the ever present "merchantability and fitness for purpose" clause that essentially says "OK, we advertized that the software would do X and solve problem Y, but now that you're on the hook, we're actually not saying that it does anything in particular or fits any need you might or might not have."

The amazing thing is that software has been so compelling to people that everyone ignores this clause and buys it anyway. Imagine if a new car sale worked this way - we'll advertise how a car will take you places, but if you buy one, it might just not do that, but it'll be your problem.

January 20, 2011 3:22 PM

Saran said:

I concur Merill Aldrich. I had read that a couple of times and had wondered, "What's wrong with the industry and these people?" In some software that I installed it also said, it may cause your computer system not to function properly.

Is there any software that in the EULA says "it would not send any personal information without the users acceptance?" Why shoul the customers get on the hook for it?

January 24, 2011 1:35 PM

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