Software that will set up a network built from users' hard drives and bandwidth has been quietly bundled into the Kazaa file-sharing program owned by Australian holding company Sharman Networks Ltd. and may also be distributed with other file-sharing programs.
Los Angeles advertising software and design company Brilliant Digital Entertainment Inc. plans to use the Altnet network software that is bundled with Kazaa to build a distributed supercomputer for tasks such as weather-mapping and genome-cracking. It also plans to use the network as an alternative file-serving system for Internet ads or other content.
The Altnet software has been downloaded along with Kazaa's file-sharing software about 20 million times, according to Brilliant. Most people don't realize Altnet is present if they installed the programs together, Brilliant Chief Executive Officer and President Kevin Burmeister acknowledged.
"I don't know how happy people are going to be, being backdoored," said Neal Goldman, research director for Yankee Group, in Boston. "It didn't feel like it was aboveboard."
People downloading Kazaa for file trading may not realize that they also downloaded the Digital Projector media player from Brilliant. Digital Projector is necessary to play Brilliant's 3D promotions and advertisements for music. Along with a piece of software called Altnet Secureinstall, the media player also makes up the platform for the Altnet network, according to Brilliant. Both are distributed as part of the software bundle for file-sharing programs such as Kazaa and StreamCast Networks Inc.'s Morpheus, according to Brilliant.
Users often skip reading the terms of service when installing software, and most people probably don't know that they installed Brilliant's software when they set up Kazaa on their PCs, Burmeister said.
"Before it's activated, there will be full disclosure," Burmeister said. "In the interest of full disclosure, it will spawn a (terms of service) window allowing people to opt in."
The terms of service for using Brilliant's software, which must be agreed to for installation, grant 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 . . . distributed computing," without the right of compensation.
Perhaps surprisingly, Brilliant plans to incorporate digital rights management from Microsoft Corp. into its separate network, allowing antipiracy technology to sail into home computers in the wake of Kazaa, a program the music and film industry considers a piracy threat.
"End users that propagate their own content using Kazaa won't be affected," by the digital rights management software, Burmeister said. The digital rights management software will be used to build a system for micropayments through Altnet, allowing content owners to get paid a small amount each time their property is distributed through the network.