As soon as my TiVo downloaded the latest operating system and enabled TiVoToGo, I downloaded the trial version of Sonic’s MyDVD that includes support for burning the TiVo files to DVDs. For the most part, the software worked — despite an incredibly slow transcoding process, out of the ten or twenty shows that I tried to burn to disc, only two or three of them failed. (I wasn’t ever able to get MyDVD to burn non-TiVo videos to disc reliably, but that’s another story entirely.) All in all, I’d have to say that at the end of my trial period (last week), I was just where Sonic wanted me — ready to send them money to buy the full version of MyDVD.

Alas, that’s when I started reading the TiVo Community forums, and came across a post that described someone’s experience with what happens when a computer’s clock accidentally gets changed during a MyDVD trial period. After resetting the clock to the correct date, MyDVD still wouldn’t work; uninstalling and reinstalling it didn’t fix the problem either, and Sonic didn’t reply to requests for help. In the thread, someone mentioned that installing MyDVD created a few registry keys and directories on their computer that referenced “PACE Anti-Piracy,” and I filed that little fact away to look into later, before deciding whether I’d buy the software.

Today’s when I looked into it, and I’d have to say it’s opened my eyes a little bit. It turns out PACE Anti-Piracy is a company that develops applications which can enforce trial periods and other restrictions on downloaded software. That’s all fine — companies should be able to release trial-period software without knowing that they’re going to lose business to people who figure out how to get around the restriction — but it also turns out that PACE does a bit more. According to this page by an end-user and PACE’s own documentation (PDF file), the software installs a kernel-level driver onto your Windows machine, does its best to blend into the woodwork (the device driver is named “TPKD”, the support files get buried in a common-apps directory, and at no point in the its process of validating a trial period does it display its name or other information to the user), and uses some method of compiling unique information about your computer in order to do its anti-piracy thing. And there’s no obvious way to get the PACE Anti-Piracy software off of your computer once it’s there.

So in this specific case, I installed MyDVD and had no idea that I was also installing another company’s application that includes a kernel-level driver and doesn’t include any mechanism for uninstallation. The MyDVD website omits this fact, as does the email that I received with my trial serial number and the clickwrap license to which I had to agree during the installation. Hell, even the Sonic privacy policy talks about their use of updater software that sends out information about your computer, but is silent on the fact that they also install another company’s apps alongside their own that could be doing pretty much anything. (Where I come from, they call that spyware.) This all doesn’t sit well with me; I guess I’ve swung from being a ready, willing Sonic customer to being a person who’s unlikely to spend any money at all with the company unless they clean up their process of giving customers complete information.

Comments and TrackBacks

• Pinged by PVRblog on Feb 7, 2005, 1:17 AM

I hope others will chime in, but after evaluating MyDVD, I found it to be inferior to Ulead Video Studio 8, which I’ve used to burn hundreds of VCD’s, SVCD’s, and DVD’s without any problems. I did a simple search on the web for “tivo to go decrypting” and found out how to use graphedit to convert the .tivo files to .mpg , which I edit and burn with Ulead. Far superior, no spyware, and much faster transcode.

• Posted by: zubeneschemali on Feb 7, 2005, 10:32 AM

Thanks for writing about this. I just began using TiVoToGo, and this is useful information.

Unless I inadvertantly installed it myself via some shareware package, my 12” Powerbook actually seems to have come preinstalled with PACE software; I notice the message “Loading PACE Services” every time I start up the machine. I haven’t had much success finding out more about it from googling, though, and I don’t know if the Mac version is innocuous or not.

• Posted by: jacob [TypeKey Profile Page] on Feb 9, 2005, 10:56 AM

Good discussion of Pace AP’s InterLok products can be found here (includes uninstall steps):

• Posted by: otrfan on Feb 9, 2005, 6:48 PM

Ummm — otrfan, you realize that I linked to that page in the post, right? :) Alas, too, that page’s instructions are mostly specific for Windows 2000 (note the C:\WINNT\ instructions), and turn out not to be perfect for WinXP. I have received an email from PACE since, though, that says that you can go to their site and download the drivers, and when you run the installer, it gives you an option to uninstall, as well. I haven’t tried it yet, since I’m dubious enough of the whole scheme that I want to do it at a time when I can concentrate on making sure I verify everything that is supposed to be happening.

• Posted by: Jason on Feb 9, 2005, 6:54 PM

I’ve been in Pro Audio for nearly 20 years. Yes, PACE is on most of the high end software. They’ve been around forever. But I’ve never had any problems in any studio I’ve ever worked for.

I don’t know where that Farrell guy gets his info, but it’s really not been my experience. Probably just an alarmist looking to make a name for himself.

PACE is a fact of life for me and the Pro Audio world. But if it gives you the heebie geebies, just follow PACE’s instructions and uninstall it. Then there will be nothing to complain about, huh?



• Posted by: Konstantine on Feb 9, 2005, 10:58 PM

Konstantine, I think you misunderstand — for the most part, I don’t have a problem with PACE, I have a problem with Sonic integrating it without telling me, and then not uninstalling it properly when I want to get rid of Sonic’s product. That’s it.

• Posted by: Jason on Feb 9, 2005, 11:03 PM

So should a software publisher disclose all their components? There’s probably hundreds of files in every installer. And probably lots of big publishers have third party libraries they use.

I think the real issue here is that PACE smells like DRM, so everyone gets hot an bothered. I get that. They enforce publisher’s rights over users. It’s an emotional issue.

But I have to admit that I agree with you that Sonic should have supported a full uninstall. Hey, it’s your machine. If you don’t want something on it, you should be able to remove it. But If PACE provides an uninstall capability, then I wonder why Sonic didn’t too?

Anyway, maybe you should be more worried about the other eleventy trillion files in your XP system that Microsoft installed on your hardware without full disclosure. They’re the real enemy dude ;-)



• Posted by: Konstantine on Feb 9, 2005, 11:26 PM

so how does one get rid of this spyware from these companies?

• Posted by: tom on Feb 19, 2005, 1:36 PM
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