What the heck’s a EULA? You might ask. It stands for End User License Agreement. You know, that multi-page legal “mumbo-jumbo that is displayed when you’re about to load a software application. Most people just scroll to the end and click on the “I Agree” button to get the install running. So…what’s the problem with that? Some EULAs can expose your computer to security risks and can put your privacy at risk by requiring you to allow the publisher or a third-party to collect information about your Internet activity and other private information.
It also specifies how you can use the software, including whether it can be used for commercial use and how many computers you may use it on. If you ignore the EULA’s specifications in these areas, and use the software in violation, you could be sued by the software publisher.
EULAs are legally binding and have been held up in a number if influential court decisions; despite their apparent strategy for discouraging careful review by being especially long and filled with “legalese”. They many times have a clause that prohibits or limits your ability to sue for damages, should the software not perform as advertised.
You can agree to the EULA’s terms in several ways, depending on the publisher and how it distributes its software. Some of the ways you can “agree” may surprise you, however, because they don’t look or feel anything like signing a contract. Beware! You might agree by:
- clicking an “I accept” button during the installation process
- opening the shrink-wrap software packaging
- breaking the seal on the software CD
- mailing a registration card to the software publisher
- installing the application
- using the application
Here are some suggested things to do to evaluate the EULA:
- Read the EULA before you install the software. It can be painfully boring reading, but this is the only way to know exactly what privacy and security risks you might be taking by agreeing to the EULA’s terms.
- Consider the software publisher. If you don’t know about the publisher or if you have any question about its integrity, review the EULA covering its software with extra care.
- Beware of firewall prompts when installing software. Firewall prompts asking you to allow certain traffic to pass may be cause for concern. Review the EULA to find out why this traffic must be allowed and whether you wish to allow it.
- Beware of “free” software, especially peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing software. Rarely is anything truly free. Review the EULA to find out what you need to do or allow in exchange for using the software, and evaluate what impact this might have on the security of your computer and personal information.
So…what options do I have once I’ve read the EULA and understand it’s implications? You can refuse to accept the terms and conditions of the EULA, but then you can’t legally use the software. You can decide that you can live with the risks you’ve uncovered in the EULA’s language. Or, you can to decide to use similar software from another source…with a less demanding EULA; like open source software. These are tough decisions to make, especially if you’re sold on the functionality of the software you’re about to install. But whichever choice you make, it will be an informed decision rather than blindly accepting the terms of the EULA.
For more information, see US CERT article Software License Agreements: Ignore at Your Own Risk.
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