Amazon’s new video download service, Amazon Unbox, opened for business this month. With some amount of fanfare, Amazon Unbox invites you to make a big deal of the Amazon Unbox experience:
“There will be many downloads in your life. But only one first download from Amazon Unbox Video. So make it special. Light the candles. Pour a beverage and consider:
Firefly, because it didn’t get enough love the first time around.
The Matrix, because Morpheus would want you to.
South Park, because you want to bleepin’ laugh.
Three Kings, because it’s a thriller, an art film, and a killer comedy all in one.”
They go on to point out that Amazon Unbox is the only place you can get certain television shows, licensed only to Amazon, such as the original Star Trek.
And of course, they do tell you, buried in the fine print, that you must download and use their Amazon Unbox video player. Now, the file format is WMV so no playing it on your iPod or saving it on a DVD, but at least in theory you could also play the video on your Windows Media Player – but – the Amazon system won’t let you download a video unless you’ve downloaded the player.
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Why is this a big deal?
Because what they don’t tell you is that the Amazon Unbox video player opens up a network connection to the Internet! And it installs itself so that it is started whenever you start up your computer, AND, even if you go into your Windows settings, and tell the system to not start up the Amazon Unbox player during start up – and even if the player does not start up when you boot up your computer – it still opens up the network connection!
It even opens up a network connection when you uninstall it, and if you kill the network connection before the uninstall occurs, it requires you to log in to Amazon!
Nobody has yet determined for certain, but odds are good that what is going on is that your downloaded Amazon Unbox player is reporting back to the Amazon mothership. Oh sure, probably nothing sinister – it’s probably tracking how many people download and install the player, and then how many uninstall it. And it certainly could be tracking how many times you’ve played the movies you’ve purchased and at what time and..wait..I take back that “nothing sinister”, because if they are tracking that, I’d say it’s pretty damned invasive.
Again, we don’t know for certain what they are tracking, but even if they are tracking nothing other than the connection itself, as CNet blogger Tom Merritt, who first discovered and wrote about this says, “…to be allowed the privilege of purchasing a video that I can’t burn to DVD and can’t watch on my iPod, I have to allow a program to hijack my start-up and force me to login to uninstall it? No way. Sorry, Amazon.”
So, while the ability to watch Kirk wrestle with the Salt Monster from the comfort of my own computer chair is tempting, I think that I’ll pass. Especially when you consider how cheap DVDs are these days, and hey, they don’t touch your Internet connection.
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