As many as 20 million people who downloaded the KaZaa file-sharing software since last February also installed a surprise -- software that can take over their computers' CPUs, storage, and Internet connections. CNET's News.com broke the story on Monday after reporter John Borland read an SEC filing by the California company Brilliant Digital.
Borland followed up the story on Tuesday, as did many others. Borland's follow-up story does the best job we saw of untangling the complex relationships among Brilliant, Sharman Networks (the Australian company that owns KaZaa), and the developers of the technology.
News.com reported that the heads of Sharman and Brilliant are former business colleagues. The New York Times got Sharman top dog Kevin Bermeister to open up about how he and Sharmin CEO Nikki Hemming are "close friends." Just wait till the Weekly World News gets its teeth into the story. The Journal quoted Mr. Burmeister as saying that KaZaa users will have a chance to "opt out" before the sneakware -- called "Altnet" -- is activated. Everyone else reported that Burmeister said users would have to opt in. The man seems to be a wee mite fuzzy on this whole privacy concept. Burmeister was equally evasive about the uses to which Altnet might be put, talking to the Times' Matt Richtel about pay-to-download music, to Informationweek about micropayments, and to News.com about performing "complicated distributed computing tasks for Brilliant Digital's clients."
This sneakware tale is an object lesson in how useful end-user license agreements are in protecting consumers' interests: The agreement grants Brilliant "the right to access and use the unused computing power and storage space on your computer/s and/or Internet access or bandwidth for the aggregation of content and use in distributed computing. The user acknowledges and authorizes this use without the right of compensation." Several news outlets ran this clause in full, and all of them somehow refrained from using exclamation marks. Not so Dave Farber, who distributed the Journal's article to his influential "Interesting People" list yesterday, titling his message "Now tell me why this is at all ethical -- they sent a virus!!" - Keith Dawson
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Brilliant Digital Entertainment Inc (BDE) Annual Report (SEC form 10KSB)