This excellent paper--which is at times amusing, and at times frightening--examines the usage and privacy policies of different entertainment delivery systems. Not only did the authors actually read the end user license agreements that came with the services, but they also monitored their network traffic and file accesses. They found that most online music and film delivery vendors impose technical and legal restrictions far beyond those that consumers have become accustomed to with tapes and disks. You can’t give something away to a friend when you’re done with it, for example.
Perhaps less well known is the fact that these services are collecting lots of data on their users--including their Internet browsing habits, as well as the details of how they viewed the downloaded material--and sharing this data with their business partners. So far, these services are not doing well, with consumer spending on content in 2002 at about $1.26 billion. Perhaps this lack of commercial success will push the entertainment companies to offer more generous terms to their customers, but I fear that, unless more people read papers like this, few will even be aware of the privacy issues related to online content downloading. There are many more public references to spyware associated with the peer-to-peer file trading systems than there are to the spyware associated with commercial services. I hope that a great many people read this paper, and I urge all of you to do so.