McAfee Patents System To 'Detect And Prevent Illegal Consumption Of Content On The Internet'

from the that'll-work dept

As a post on the French site Numerama reminds us (original in French), the department responsible for implementing the three-strikes plan known as HADOPI was also supposed to provide Internet users with information about technical solutions to reduce infringement. That never happened — instead, the body has preferred to send out warning messages on a massive scale and to seek convictions, even of those who are innocent. But in the meantime, the US company McAfee seems to have obtained a patent on just the kind of thing the French law originally had in mind:

Disclosed are systems and methods for preventing (or at least deterring) a user from inadvertently or directly consuming illegal content on the Internet. For example, determine when a user might visit a site distributing illegal content (i.e., material in violation of a copyright or otherwise inappropriately distributed) and presenting a warning to the user prior to navigating to the identified inappropriate distribution site.

Of course, there are a couple of big issues here. First, who determines whether content is illegal? As Techdirt has reported many times, the only people who can give a definitive answer are judges: anything else is likely to be plagued with errors and arbitrary decisions. Since an ad-hoc system would naturally err on the side of caution, this would inevitably lead to perfectly legitimate sites being miscategorized and thus starved of visitors.

Secondly, even leaving aside that issue, how will the McAfee system “determine” when a user might be visiting a site distributing allegedly illegal content? The patent application describes one particularly dangerous approach:

Various embodiments, described in more detail below, provide a technique for performing a check of a distribution source prior to allowing its content to be downloaded. The implementation could utilize a “cloud” of resources for centralized analysis. Individual download requests interacting with the cloud need not be concerned with the internal structure of resources in the cloud and can participate in a coordinated manner to distinguish potential threatening “rouge hosts” and “authorized distributions” on the Internet.

As that makes clear, the proposed system would basically spy on everything you type into your Web browser, sending off full details of your requests to the cloud for analysis, where they would be checked in some way — for example, against blacklists or whitelists. The results of that check would be sent back to your system, which might then place suitably dire warnings on your screen about the dangers of proceeding.

Clearly, that is a gross violation of privacy, with huge potential dangers. For a start, the centralized analysis system that the McAfee patent speaks of would be the perfect place to check up on everything that a person was doing on their computer, since all Internet requests would be routed through it. That makes it even easier than it is today for the authorities, who would no longer have to go to several Internet service companies in order to spy on users without the latter being aware of the fact.

Naturally, such issues of censorship and surveillance wouldn’t worry the copyright companies in the slightest. If such a system were available, they would doubtless push hard for ISPs to adopt it — perhaps on a purely “voluntary” basis, just like the new “six strikes” system in the US. Indeed, I’d be surprised if they aren’t already having discussions with McAfee on how they can work together for their mutual benefit here.

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Companies: mcafee

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Comments on “McAfee Patents System To 'Detect And Prevent Illegal Consumption Of Content On The Internet'”

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btr1701 (profile) says:


> a coordinated manner to distinguish
> potential threatening “rouge hosts” and
> “authorized distributions” on the Internet.

Ah, there’s that old ‘rogue sites’ canard again. Assuming they actually *are* referring to ‘rogue sites’ and not web sites tinged a delightful pinkish-red color, it really is amusing how successfully Big Content has managed to mold language in its favor in this regard.

They’ve basically taken sites which are legal, but which they just don’t like and can’t do anything about, and demonized them by saddling them with this pejorative ‘rogue’ label, which in turns leads uninformed people to believe that the sites must be doing something wrong or the government and its Big Content masters wouldn’t be calling them such scary names.

In reality there’s no such thing as a ‘rogue site’. A web site is either legal, or its illegal. If it’s the former, then trying to taint it by making up evil-sounding names for it doesn’t for one minute change its legality.

The Real Michael says:

Re: Rogue

Correct me if I’m mistaken but McAfee is supposed to protect against spyware, malware, viruses, etc., not act as a regulatory front between yourself and the (dangerous?) internet. This is essentially like transforming your internet access into a superficial walled garden, no doubt at the behest of the copyright maximalists. Whatever a ‘rogue website’ is supposed to be, McAfee is free to define and blacklist…

The simple solution: don’t use their program.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Rogue

I certainly agree with your second statement.

However, McAfee is simply a brand. Under that brand they have their well known anti-virus products, but they also supply products ranging from enterprise level network security to spam filters to internet content blockers. They supply not only home users, but large enterprises as well as (IIRC) ISPs. It’s well within their normal remit to do this, however the danger is that (as suggested in the article), the **AAs will try and make it mandatory, possibly at the ISP level, which is very dangerous.

By all means vote with your wallet relating to the things you can directly control, but you also need to be aware of the things you can’t.

out_of_the_blue says:

Re: Re:

@ Anonymous Coward, Apr 26th, 2013 @ 1:56pm

1. According to the Google patents link, this is merely an application.
2. Rouge hosts? How did that get past even one pair of eyes?

1. In Mikeworld, just applying for a patent is dire threat to civil liberties around the globe.
2. Funny you and someone else should mention that. I’ve seen it SO many times just here on Techdirt that thought PERHAPS was some new technical term or deliberate pun that I’d missed, so went to the evil Google, found to my relief that Baton Rouge is nearly the only item it brings up. Must be a common case of dyslexia.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Every hackers wet dream

So you’ve got a massive database, filled to the brim with information on countless computers, and one that requires a computer to both send information and receive it to be able to function.

Let’s see, that gives hackers a one-stop-shop for:
1. Continually updating personal information on countless people.
2. An unbelievably good way to spread viruses, malware, trojan programs, and any other ‘surprises’ they can think of.

Yeah, I can’t possibly see any reason why a system like this could be considered a really bad idea. /s

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Every hackers wet dream

You think that any security or privacy concerns are even considered here?

Mind you I can think of one hilarious way this could be abused – simply hack the servers doing the work and either turn them into a repository for pirated files, or edit the database so that it becomes a whitelist instead of blacklist. All of a sudden, either McAfee becomes the source for all pirate files or they start blocking access to everything except pirate sites…

Anonymous Coward says:

in trying to stay in the ‘dark ages’ of pre-internet and protect their content from those ‘pesky pirates’, the entertainment industries have opened a very bad can of worms which, eventually, is going to be too hard to close. i know they are not worried, but you never know, it could come back and haunt them big time. it wouldn’t be the first time in history that in trying to stop something, the drastic measures taken end up creating much bigger problems than the original one ever was. the encroachment on to freedom and privacy, just to try to stop anyone copying a movie etc, is far in excess of what it should be. had the material been made available when it should have been at sensible prices etc, none of this shit needed to have happened. how stupid and stubborn humans are!

Paul says:

Only idiots use McAfee. McAfee and Norton are the worst antivirus program out there! I bet 3/4 of the people who use these programs are still using AOL as a service provider. People that don’t know there’s free software 10x better should go back to using typewriters and rotary phones. Who will be the target audience for this new app? Movie stars and Musicians? Keep up the good work McAfee!

Internet Zen Master (profile) says:

Re: Re:

uses Norton

Meh, Norton does an adequate job for a run-of-the-mill anti-virus program.

That said, I have SuperAntiSpyware and MalwareBytes installed and run them every so often just to go through my drives and make sure that Norton didn’t miss anything.

But yeah, I burst out laughing when I read that McAfee was the ones patenting this thing. I mean, I don’t know anyone in my circle of friends actually uses McAfee these days. It’s kinda common knowledge now that it’s a shitty anti-virus software.

And now that I think about it, if they implement this patent into their software, aren’t they technically selling legal spyware instead of an anti-virus program?

Anonymous Coward says:

McAfee and Norton are huge wastes of computer resources. First thing I do when I get a new computer is dump them. I don’t even want a free month. They are worse than useless.

Used to be Norton was a good product back in the day and it commonly exceeded the users expectations. Once it was sold off as a cash cow, the corporations had no idea how to keep good programmers and let them all go through attrition or just coming at them with the corporate mentality.

So ask yourself, when was the last time a software exceeded your expectations? Can’t think of a one today that qualifies for that.

As far as this new spyware app McAfee has come out with, I wonder how much more b/w and memory one would have to buy to run it? Think you got problems with slow internet today? lols

McAfee can keep it’s crap. I don’t want it.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So ask yourself, when was the last time a software exceeded your expectations?

Lotus Improv – 1993

Still conceptually ahead of current spreadsheets 20 years on – and I still prefer to use it whenever I can.

Also it is the living-dead proof that the capitalism-copyright combination doesn’t deliver what it is supposed to. Since Improv is now locked (effectively forever) in IBM’s vault of things that it can’t release to open source (even though it might want to) because of conflicting rights.

OldGeezer (profile) says:

My cable company provides McAfee as part of their service. I never got anything but false warnings and more than one occasion that I did get infected it did nothing. I keep multiple system image disks, so all I had to do is back up far enough to find a clean one. Fortunately with Windows 8 Defender is really all the protection that you need so I uninstalled McAfee. From what I have read this is just like their worthless site adviser that I disabled long ago. It gave a warning when I went to my account before I even had any files in it. My guess is all this will do is give a warning for any page with cyber locker or torrent links on it. It may deter very inexperienced users who aren’t smart enough to disable it. I doubt that this will ever be implemented involuntarily on ISP level. The backlash would be more than they could handle.

Anonymous Coward says:

IP law and all forms of government established monopoly are theft and the allegation that it promotes the progress does not justify theft any more than it justifies me stealing my neighbors car. Abolish IP. Abolish govt established taxi cab monopolies. Abolish govt established cableco and broadcasting monopolies for commercial/private use.

Shon Gale (profile) says:

As a tech for 30 years I have installed thousands of McAfee ripoffs. We used to joke? McAfee was creating the viruses! He was just too quick in finding the latest greatest virus. Nothing sells product like fear. We made 2 mill a year just installing it. What a gravy train. But totally full of it. In all my years as a tech and cleaning Virus, Malware and just bad installs I have never run across a virus that actually did any harm. I never lost a hard drive, I never lost a computer. I had way more problems with crap manufacturing of computer parts than I ever did with a Virus. GM was a customer and we found the Word virus on thousands of documents. Did it hurt anything? NO! It just spread itself around. But we made tons of money getting rid of it. Companies like GetSavin with their browser hijacking are far more worrisome and predatory than any virus I ever ran into.
To cement my point: Have you ever heard of a hacker losing their system because they were developing a virus? NO! Never! It would be in a blog somewhere. Google it. “hacker loses system developing virus” I did! Nobody has ever been reported.

special-interesting (profile) says:

The patent office issued a patent for what? Hahaah. This should be instead listed under the ?lets issue patents for everything and let the companies with the largest bankroll duke it out with the little guys plan. (Obvious special-interesting angle of approach) It must be a special interest lobbying group conception.

Detecting and preventing (Internet browsing/usage) Illegal anything is kind of lame to anyone who has read the Bill of Rights. Or even the Constitution. Exsquease me but haven’t we been introduced to totalitarian ant hill concepts before? -explicit rant-

OK lets put on the breaks on the obvious concerns and hold for now.

This is a great article pointing out the ridiculous side of patent law. Since this seems like a software patent (triply redundantly ridiculous) is way off into legislated Oz land. (?Oz? is copyrighted in so many ways. Why does the average citizen worry about casual inferences like this???!?? What areas of freedom of expression are wiped out?)

What effect does this type of thinking have on culture? What type of culture is encouraged with usage of this ‘system’? Is is a good and desirable way of life? Who cares… We/us? The type and style of culture is the point for constitutional rationalizations.

To the point; If firms profit by totalitarian thinking then… they will. And. Will do so. -absoluteness- Whether or not McAfee profits by such a patent is completely a cultural and societal based argument. (fascinating, Love it and hate it at same time.) An article about how the average American thinks some white knight will save them without doing anything drastic like changing their voting habits…

The McAfee proposed system raises many censorship and privacy concerns. Just them thinking about such nasty concepts is bothering.

The anti-computer-virus industry benefits more than most from FUD. Fear (of viruses), Uncertainty (of the consequences) and doubt (about the remedies) from such an unknown outside terror. Since its logical that the computer virus industry might vanish if knowledge of how to avoid contamination becomes a part of popular culture… would their investor financial projections decrease?

To be honest the anti-virus industry does perform a valued function if overrated. But! Because of FUD this industry profits in enormous ways. Its a bad symptom of current (low?) cultural IQ.


(AC comment) Anyone who studies the statistics of virus invasion of computers knows that disabling flash and Java for all sites (this method also impedes innovative input) visited is the only way to be sure of avoiding casual virus problems. Use of a non popular OS helps (for general browsing) also. Other things. (complex thoughts)

Rouge site lists will always be taken advantage of by political hijacking. Its a, given classic, censorship by opportunity thing.

Btr1701; Legal and illegal is not even a good argument anymore. With CFAA and DMCA combined with current copyright law 95% of citizens are breaking the law just using the copy-machines, scanners and computers in their possession. Law is quickly becoming irreverent in favor of something else. (like I know wtf.) Its a good point.

AB; A keyloger! Yes thats the term for this McAfee spyware proposal. Good observation.

Richard M Stallman (user link) says:

In addition to the twisted ideas criticized in this article,
I’d like to point out one more: the idea of “consuming content”.

It’s perverse to refer to published works as “content”, since that
deprecates the works by suggesting that their only purpose is to keep
a box full of something — and never mind what.

It’s even more perverse to speak of “consuming” these works,
since listening to or viewing a work does not consume it.

What that word really says is, “I have adopted the narrow
vision of an economist, and will pretend that there is
no significant difference between listening to a song and eating a
sandwich. And if you’re not careful, I’ll lead you into
the same confusion.”

Please don’t encourage this narrowminded way of thinking. Please join
me in not referring to published works as “content” and in not
speaking of “consuming” them.

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