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8/29/2007
06:13 PM
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Coupons.com DRM Likened To Sony Rootkit

A new report suggests that the site requires users to install an ActiveX control that limits coupon printing and adds tracking data to printed coupons.

In a report issued Tuesday, spyware researcher Ben Edelman accused online coupon site Coupons.com with deceptive business practices arising from its attempt to impose restrictions on consumers using digital rights management (DRM) techniques.

Edelman likens Coupons.com's actions to Sony BMG's disastrous attempt to conceal its DRM software using a rootkit. "Just as Sony had to rely on a rootkit to hide its DRM software from users who otherwise would have chosen to remove it, Coupons.com hides user IDs in obscure files and registry keys," the report said. "Just as Sony's disclosures were less than forthright, so too does Coupons.com fail to tell users what it is doing and how."

Coupons.com said that users may use as many coupons as they'd like. But the site nonetheless requires users to install an ActiveX control that limits coupon printing and adds tracking data to printed coupons. In keeping with this approach, Coupons.com last month sued a California man under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act for creating and distributing software to circumvent the digital restrictions that it seeks to impose on its users' activities.

Edelman claims that as a consequence of Coupons.com's efforts to restrict users, the discount site installed deceptive filenames, and registry entries on users' computers, failed to remove all Coupons.com software components when users attempt to uninstall the software, printed ID numbers on coupons, and allowed third-parties to retrieve those ID numbers in violation of the company's privacy policy.

"Coupons.com's choice of registry keys and filenames has a clear purpose and effect: To deter users from deleting the specified keys and files," the report said. "Even among users sophisticated enough to manually delete unwanted files and registry keys, the chosen registry keys and filenames look so official that removal appears unwise. The typical result is that users will elect to retain these files, mistakenly concluding that these files are part of Windows."

Edelman believes Coupons.com could easily reform its practices by being forthright with its users and treating them with respect rather than as thieves.

"We take all consumer concerns, real or perceived, very seriously," said Coupons.com president and COO Jeff Weitzman in an e-mail. "There are errors and omissions in the article that concern us. Edelman's focus is consumer privacy, yet he clearly understands that our software does not require or collect any personal information. Some of the issues he pointed out may nevertheless be perceived as problems, and we have already taken steps to correct or clarify them. Had Mr. Edelman contacted us to discuss his findings prior to publishing his article, we could have helped him improve its accuracy."

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