February 24, 2010


Today I followed a link to a live video stream on CNN.com. To watch it, I had to give permission to have "Octoshape" installed on my computer.  Here's how Octoshape defines itself:
The Octoshape software utilizes a grid streaming technology. With grid streaming technology, parts of the video and audio stream you watch may be delivered to your personal computer system via the personal computer systems of other end users of the software, and the personal computer system on which you install the Software may also be used to deliver parts of the video and audio stream to other end users of the Software only while you are viewing the same respective stream.
This basically means that I'll download the stream at the same time upload the downloaded data to someone else that is requesting it.  That way CNN doesn't have to upload it to everyone that wants to see it.  The people that download the content will pass it on to other people.  It's similar to the concept behind bit torrent software.

Here's all it said about the licensing terms on that same informational page that was offered before installing the software:
By installing the Octoshape software you are granting permission for Octoshape, the website and other end users of the software to utilize and share the processor and bandwidth of your personal computer system for the limited purpose of facilitating the communication between you and other end users of the software, including Octoshape and the website, and improving bandwidth efficiency in order to provide you the content.
I didn't install it because it didn't specify that my computer would only be used to serve the data that I had specifically requested and that I would have control of how much of their data my computer would serve.  It seemed like these terms are so broad as to allow them to use my computer as a server at will.  I was only willing to pass on the content of theirs that I knowingly downloaded and only using the same amount of bandwidth as I used to download it, no more.  I decided not to install it.

I told someone about this and they linked me to a list of criticisms of this software from Wikipedia:
Octoshape has been criticized [7] for its "ludicrous license terms". Octoshape's EULA, amongst other things, for protection against reverse engineering the Octoshape software prohibits the user utilizing the records that their firewall or anti-virus software may record .
Other points of criticism:
  • Being closed source software prevents the internal functions of the software from being publicly examined for hidden functions and other security problems.
  • Shifts the broadcaster's share of the cost of bandwidth to the listeners instead by running servers on the listeners' machines.
  • Octoshape reserves the right to expand the scope of what its software does on listeners' computers. [8]
This seems to be a common problem with software provided by large media content providers like CNN. Having a large audience, they can afford to alienate technologically savvy visitors to take advantage of the vast majority who do not understand the technology.  Content providers that built their business on the internet are generally better about having fair and clear terms of service because their initial rise in popularity depends on acceptance by people who are more familiar with the internet.  Be on the lookout for mass media content providers trying to screw you over.


  1. The worst part is how once installed, the software can do pretty much anything per the TOS! Why are our computers being treated with such disrespect?

  2. I can certainly understand being a bit paranoid with any legal language, but I think if you watch the upload and download bit rate it seems to be very conservative, and behaves exactly as you describe you would like it to. I haven't seen it use more download than upload, once I disconnect from CNN, the upload turns off inside of a few seconds. CNN is a super conservative about their brand, I have a feeling they would have held Octoshape to some strict standards before deploying the technology. I also did some testing on CNN, and notice my streams start significantly faster while I have Octoshape installed. I found this on their website which talks about some pretty interesting concepts about what they call "throughput optimization"