Two weeks ago we published an article calling for more transparency from gaming companies that use P2P technology to let their users distribute content. In the days after we published the article, one of the major players in P2P game distribution responded to our concerns. According to Akamai, gamers aren’t P2P bandwidth slaves, they just need to read the EULA.
Previously, we drew attention to the growing use of stealth P2P clients for game delivery and the need to provide more transparency and control to players who are required to install P2P software during game downloads and updates. In particular, we highlighted complaints by gamers about the Akamai NetSession Interface (NSI) and Pando Media Booster.
Thankfully, some of the leading players in the industry paid attention to our call. Akamai’s Bill Wishon contacted us in response to the article to discuss “some inaccuracies … that needed correction.” Some of the issues that were discussed during this call were summarized by Wishon in a comment here. While we welcome Akamai’s efforts to help us address potential “inaccuracies”, we feel that it is a little one-sided.
Here are excerpts from their statement which attempts to address the transparency issue:
Akamai has had a user bill of rights and design principles published on our website for a few years now and have been using them to guide our development and design decisions. The guidelines you posted from Solid State Networks seem to align with these principles and perhaps take a more gaming centric perspective…
The NetSession EULA does state that our software runs as a background service, this is also stated in the technical info on our site.
Transparency: Our software is visible in the normal places you would expect to manage a system service on the platform you are on.
The problem with Akamai’s statement is that it does nothing to address the frustration expressed by so many users that do not appreciate that P2P software has been installed on their systems without their knowledge. Instead, it seems to imply that Akamai believes that its “commitment” to transparency has been met through the EULA disclosure.
Of course, this might be true if one assumes that every user carefully reads the EULA to learn that a system service is being installed by Akamai. But it also assumes that all users will understand what a service is and how and where a service operates on their system. This is just not a realistic expectation for almost any subset of Internet users, including online gamers. And nowhere in the EULA are the implications of a having a continuously running P2P client on the user’s system conveyed.
Also, upon examining Akamai’s user “Bill of Rights” we are informed that “Users have the right to know what their Akamai NetSession Interface is doing at all times.” This sounds great, until we read on to find that this functionality is provided through a command line tool. This hardly seems aligned with the model of transparency advocated within Solid State Networks’ best practices as Bill Wishon suggests.
It is apparent from the number of blog and forum posts available from Google searches that both Pando and Akamai have been aware for some time that many consumers are upset by their stealth operational tactics. Our reader Delusion points us to his own run-in with Pando and response from Pando management which is detailed on his blog back in February.
There simply are no valid technical reasons that prevent either of these companies from providing a real-time and accessible view of their applications’ activity and its impact on user resources. Therefore, one might conclude that the lack of visibility of their P2P applications is by design and that they are most concerned with their own self-interests at the expense of all consumers. After all, these companies stand to profit a great deal from selling their services using end user’s bandwidth that ultimately costs them nothing.
It is time for Akamai and Pando to acknowledge their shortcomings and start to live up to their claims of transparency and control. More importantly, game publishers need to be held accountable for how they choose to implement P2P software with their games. Several TorentFreak readers have named other offenders, including ijji’s Reactor, Square Enix’ Final Fantasy XIV, and THQ’s City of Heroes as examples of games that natively use P2P in a manner that lacks a display of respect for their players.
We truly applaud Akamai for taking the time to explain their side of the story to us, but to reach true fairness and transparency they (and others) will have to step it up a notch. Also, we advise individual Akamai employees not to suggest that we were paid for bringing this issue up in the comment section. Clearly we must have hit a sore spot, but that shouldn’t lead to more unfairness should it?