Maybe NSA Should Have an End-User License Agreement

I’ve stayed away from the entire NSA/Greenwald discussion, for a number of reasons, not getting screamed at by random people online being one of them. It’s not like they wouldn’t have grounds to object should I dip my toe into the whole mess: others have covered the issue in far more exhaustive detail than I ever could, and I certainly have no credentials with which to back up any comments I make on the subject. All in all, it hasn’t seemed particularly worthwhile for me to speak (ignorantly) on the subject of online surveillance and the creeping NSA menace, so I’ve stuck to other ramblings.

But now I’m bored. And I do odd things when I get bored.

Now, I’m not an American, so I really ought to be up in arms about the implications about alleged unrestrained NSA spying. After all, it doesn’t really make any difference to me whether the FISA court is or is not a rubber-stamping farce meant to fool the gullible as opposed to an actual oversight mechanism: I’m a foreigner, which means spying on me falls completely and legally within NSA’s purview, at least as far as American law is concerned. Why the hell they’d want to spy on me is another matter entirely, as I’m not terribly interesting. Or so Stan (the NSA stooge who skulks in the bushes at the top of my driveway and goes through my garbage) tells me, and I have no reason to disbelieve him. Nice guy, that Stan; I’ll have to remember to take him a mug of hot coffee tonight: my weather app says freezing rain.

But I digress.

Instead of wading into the morass of NSA overreach versus legality, invasion of privacy versus the limitations of metadata, or Greenwald versus reality, I’ve decided to try something slightly different, just by way of offering a contrast to the debate over whether the collection of metadata by U.S. intelligence agencies and the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of the FISA court constitute the Greatest Scandal in the History of Ever, or perhaps something less than that, something that doesn’t require lighting one’s own hair on fire and screaming about black helicopters.

So, let’s leave NSA behind for a moment, and turn our attention to the organization that’s going to be playing the role of “Contrast” in our game of “Compare and Contrast.” Let’s talk about the company that made history by being twice voted the Worst Company in America at the Consumerist, beating out Bank of America, Ticketmaster and Comcast to claim its repeat run for the title (I would have gone Monsanto or Goldman Sachs, myself, but oh well).

Ladies, gentlemen, may I introduce you to Electronic Arts.

Not exactly the most important company in the world, true. Not even the company that inflicts the most damage on the planet (pretty sure that ExxonMobil, at the very least, has EA beat in that category). They don’t produce products that people will die without, or rig the entire global economy with fiscal nitroglycerine for the lulz. But when it comes to the sheer pathological hatred they can invoke in their ostensible customer base, it’s very difficult to top Electronic Arts.

Yup, they’re that unpopular.

Now, I could go through the various reasons why a pretty good portion of the gaming community hate EA with a burning white-hot fury that is only matched by the average Republican’s loathing for President Obama — EA’s anti-consumer practices, their price-gouging downloadable content practices, their awful quality control, their habit of purchasing smaller studios and publishers and systematically destroying said smaller companies’ credibility and the value of their intellectual property by being generally incompetent — but that’s a conversation for another day, and most of it isn’t really relevant to a discussion regarding online surveillance. But there is one particular aspect of EA’s business that has enraged its consumer base to the point where quite a lot of gamers refuse to deal with the company at all, and it concerns EA’s Origin digital content delivery service.

Gamers who’ve dealt with this particular “service” are probably already nodding.

On the surface, EA’s Origin is merely terrible, a pathetic attempt to compete with Valve’s Steam service that succeeds only in highlighting just how much Valve have improved their model since it was introduced and how little EA gives a damn about their customers. Origin survives mostly due to the fact that EA are doing everything they can to make it impossible to enjoy any of their products without dealing with their damnable delivery program; it certainly can’t compete in terms of features, or price, or library size, or sales, or pretty much any other consideration. And if those were the only problems with Origin, gamers would probably grind their teeth, deal with their irritation and power through the front end of the “service” to get to their favourite content as quickly as possible. But it’s not just Origin’s awful paucity of features and EA’s indifference to improving the service (not to mention their pathological insistence that people who want to give them money must deal with them through Origin and only through Origin if they have any say in the matter at all).

No, the real difficulty with Origin lies in its End-User License Agreement. You know, the thing you never bother reading when you install a program, instead just clicking the “I Agree” button and cursing at how slow the whole install process is. Yeah, that. You may want to read the EULA in this case.

Really, I mean it…

Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.