Wednesday, 23 of April of 2014

Underhanded and sneaky: Pando, DDO Online, and Turbine

Wherein the author takes Turbine to task for running a stealth torrent client on users' machines.

A lot of us are familiar with software companies leveraging the BitTorrent protocol. World of Warcraft comes to mind; every update is, if possible, sent to you via the torrent protocol. This is fine, because once you close the updater, the torrenting ceases. You are aware and informed.

I found something a lot more underhanded the other day while investigating some issues. A program called PMB.exe wanted to access the internet. PMB is another torrent client (Pando Media Booster) used by some other pieces of software to share data (in my case, it was from trying Dungeons & Dragons Online for free for a few weeks).

The key difference is that, unlike the WoW patcher, PMB was operating without my being aware, and was not making any attempt to keep me informed. As I have quite enough torrents that I deliberately seed, the last thing I need is another client fighting for bandwith, sharing files that I’m not interested in sharing. It was only sharing game data files, nothing of mine, but it’s still an extremely unethical thing to do without my knowledge.

I don’t have any expectations for Pando to live up to; they make stealthware and sell it to other companies. I do, however, have expectations for DDO’s publisher Turbine to live up to. When Asheron’s Call was popular, one of their practices which set them apart was their approach to their customers. At the time, the big massively multiplayer online games were Ultima Online and Everquest. Ultima Online’s developer, Origin (now Electronic Arts) were best known for a rather brain-dead approach; problems with the game were often hand-waved as something the players should sort out, and there was insufficient attention to detail to the ramifications of software changes and how they would be exploited. Everquest’s developer, Verant (now Sony Online Entertainment) was better known for being downright hostile to its users; you were playing their game, according to their vision, and if you had a problem with that, well, you didn’t know what you were talking about and frankly you could go toss off if they didn’t ban you first.

Turbine was the first of the more popular MMOGs to treat its customers like customers. They were neither ignored nor actively treated like the enemy. Their customers weren’t always right (and anyone who ever played an MMOG is going to cringe at the notion that the customer is always right), but they weren’t talked down, patronized, or insulted.

This respect for the customer is precisely why this inclusion of Pando Media Booster feels like a betrayal of Turbine’s values. This is my bandwidth. The use of users’ bandwidth without informing them is theft. If a game developer wants to use it to distribute your content in a more efficient fashion, go ahead and ask the user. In my case, I’ll probably let you, assuming your client isn’t running in the background when I’m not actively involved in the game loader or the game itself.

Turbine, this is shameful and unethical.

Update, 16 Feb: Peter from Pando’s Network Support Team commented below and addressed some of the issues I brought up. Specifically, he does address the initial notification issue, so there is an initial screen which informs the user about the presence of the PMB client. If the PMB client was running only when DDO was updating, and running as an application showing up either in the task bar or the system tray, I’d feel a little differently about this whole situation. As it is, it’s the fact that this client has been running silently on startup and that I had to find out about it via firewall software and the process explorer that bugs me. I didn’t sign up for that.


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Comments RSS TrackBack 7 comments

Peter

in February 16th, 2010 @ 11:29

Hello,

We at Pando came across your post and wanted to reach out to you regarding the issues you raised regarding the inclusion of PMB in Turbine Products.

Pando enables a secured and managed P2P technology to help both developers and gamers in increasing download speeds, improving completion time and reducing costs for developers so they can keep providing great content for gamers to enjoy. We realize that some gamers may be turned off by the P2P aspect, so we have provided a number of features to better inform users and offer them control over how PMB works on their machine.

The first screen that you see when you run the DDO downloader is this :

http://www.screencast.com/t/OTUwZDY2MzMt

We first detail what PMB is doing and provide a link to our terms of service, furthermore we install a Control Panel applet that allows you to turn PMB off, limit upload speed, and disable PMB from starting on Windows startup. You can find more information on this here:

http://www.pandonetworks.com/pando-media-booster-support-faq

You can also stop the seeding process by simply moving or deleting your downloaded content once the download has completed and you installed the game.

Lastly, you can easily uninstall PMB from Window’s Add/Remove Programs if you choose to do so.

We are constantly adding features to PMB to improve stability and politeness, and welcome any feedback or questions our users might have, so drop us a line via email: downloader@pandonetworks.com.

On a personal note, your blog has some great content, I hope this clears up any questions or problems you had with PMB.

Peter
Pando Networks Support Team


fung0

in March 6th, 2010 @ 11:56

While Peter’s comment is admirably polite, I’d take his rebuttal more seriously, if the ONLY warning about their software weren’t displayed in a truly TINY little two-line window, needing a lot of scrolling to read - and with the text in illegible light gray on dark gray! (You can actually see this in the screenshot that Peter has provided.) Huge bright-red flashing letters would be far more appropriate.

What’s more, Pando should ABSOLUTELY display a tray icon, as well as some sort of pop-up notification when it runs. NOTHING should EVER EVER EVER run on my system without at least that much courtesy. If those notifications are omitted, I am forced to assume that the software is deliberately attempting to escape my notice. (How often do YOU look in your Control Panel, on the off-chance that some new applet has appeared there??)

If Pando is indeed benign and above-board, it should bend over backwards to treat its users with respect. After all, its OUR bandwidth they’re taking. I might be happy to voluntarily donate it, as many do with BitTorrent, but I am definitely going to resent any attempt to use it without my full knowledge, consent and control.

This is particularly important as many users today (myself included) are laboring under idiotically restrictive download caps. This puts the onus on software companies like Pando to be scrupulously respectful of our bandwidth.


Bryan

in April 19th, 2010 @ 08:39

As for me, the usage of Pando, or any other similar package, as apparently the only means of delivery of the software, prevents me from even trying D&D Online. At home I am under huge bandwidth usage restrictions by my satellite based ISP so my only way of downloading the client software is to download it at an alternate location where installing software is not an option.

In addition to the bandwidth usage limits imposed by my ISP, BitTorrent simply does not work very well on a connection like mine where upload speed is significantly slower than download speed. Because the protocol limits your download based upon your seed performance, BitTorrent downloads over asynchronous satellite based internet connections tend to be slower than a similar download would be over dial-up. It sends shivers down my spine to think how horribly long it would take to download the 3gb + D&D Online client at 14400 baud!


Skjald

in April 20th, 2010 @ 14:37

When the word “use” is appropriate, do not use the word “leverage.” It has three times as many syllables, and the only bonus connotation you get for that price is one which flags you as an imbecile.

As for Pando, I agree completely. It’s trash, and any company which “leverages” it is shooting itself in the foot.


David

in March 16th, 2011 @ 05:58

I was going to try out DDO tonight, but stopped the download when Pando was installed, and un-installed everything. I guess I won’t be purchasing any Turbine points.
And Peter Pando’s standardized, damage control response was worse than useless.


Jason

in May 9th, 2011 @ 22:16

I had it out with the DDO folks on their forums once over this a few years ago. They simply don’t care. Whatever makes them a few more pennies.


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