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Software upgrades, ethics and online purchase

Back in August, I thought that the only casualty of my upgrade to the iMac was AppleWorks. Little did I realise that my occasional use of Acrobat Pro would also become an issue. Mostly I use Acrobat Reader, which is free to download, but occasionally I need a few Pro features – for example to be able to chop a book into sections for our "Look inside" feature on the Rucksack Readers website, so people can "try before they buy". Sadly, when I tried to instal an old version of Acrobat Pro from my CD yesterday, I was thwarted: it's an upgrade to an earlier version (also a legal CD) which runs under Classic. The iMac doesn't do Classic, so it had a hissy fit and spat out that CD.

So I looked around the web intending to buy an update, and was horrified to find that Acrobat Pro costs £413 on Amazon, and nearly as much from US sources with all the extra delay, carriage and duty. Since I seldom need Pro, it seemed an outrageous price, and Adobe don't even do a 30-day trial edition for Mac (as they do for Windows). So I tried a Google search including the word discount, and was surprised to find dozens of sites offering OEM download-only versions for $60 US. Surprised, intrigued, curious, ... indeed I was almost tempted, since I certainly don't need the manuals, CD or packaging.

But having had a lot of my own intellectual property ripped off over a long lifetime, I am very old-fashioned about software piracy and had read with scepticism the reasons stated why the software was so cheap (bankrupt stock, auctions, no delivery costs etc). I then noticed that although the sites in question had very different company names, URLs and general appearances, the FAQ wording was suspiciously identical (with the same tiny mistakes in spelling or grammar), they all offered the same vast range of popular software, and, most dubious of all, they all had the same "call centre" number, a UK number 0203 286 4046 that claims a link with 25 Vartry Road, London, N15 6PT. Phone it and you'll get an answering machine. Check the address online and you'll find it consists of flats. So with no intention of buying anything from this dodgy-seeming source, I clicked the Checkout button.

These sites are littered with plausible-looking bits and pieces, moneyback assurances, privacy and anti-spam policies. The shopping cart page has a security logo and the site claims to be designed by

© VK Software. Approved by Google Inc.
This information is provided by the customer and is entered into our certified secure network. Any information provided by our customers is never shared, sold, or released to any third party outside our network.

But the bogus padlock graphic is merely artwork, not in the browser, and the URL lacks the vital s in https:// ... The unwary might not notice these small details and may enter their card details into this totally insecure environment with disastrous results.

The conclusion seems inescapable that the very low software prices are purely an inducement to divulge your card details. Whether you then get a working and/or pirated download is not the point. Once your card has been compromised, it will be very clear that this was a poor bargain. But if Adobe's pricing weren't so high, there wouldn't be such a strong incentive for such websites to flourish, proliferate and doubtless take lots of money from unsuspecting customers. Is Adobe's greed fuelling this particular market?

Deep sigh! I run an online business and I want people to be able to trust this form of commerce. It's disappointing to find so much human ingenuity going into deceiving others, and the whole thing has been hugely time-wasting. It's similar to a Trojan horse: "Timeo Danaos et[iam] dona ferentes" ("Beware of Greeks even if they bring presents" – a caution that the citizens of Troy should have heeded).

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 20, 2008 4:11 PM.

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