cPanel’s new EULA: more software industry arrogance?

[Update 16 April 2012: Early communications with cPanel indicated that their EULA may in fact have been unchanged, just presented again as part of the license activation — which would put a very different perspective on things. I added a question mark at the end of the headline at that time. Either way, their eventual official response indicates that this process might well be changed. That’s a win for us all.]

What is it with software companies that shove a multi-page contract in your face and expect you to click “I Agree” on the spot? Seriously, what level of ignorant arrogance does that require? cPanel Inc, creators of a popular web hosting management system, are just the latest in this conga line of suckholes.

(Note to fragile American readers: that’s a literary reference. Grow up and deal with it.)

This morning the shared web server I provide for clients had updated its cPanel/WHM software overnight. As it should. But I had to agree to a new end user license agreement (EULA) before I could even start to address an urgent maintenance matter.

I was far from impressed. If you want to change the rules, cPanel, you’ll bloody well give me the chance to consider those changes and decide whether I agree.

I just fired off this email. I await their reply.

Dear cPanel Inc,

I take serious issue with the way you have just handled the change to your end user license agreement (EULA) that came with the new version 11.30.6.7. of cPanel/WHM installed automatically overnight.

There is no warning of an impending change to the EULA that I can immediately see in either the news or blog sections of your website, nor was there any notice that I saw in the cPanel/WHM interface. You simply popped up the new EULA in front of people once the new software had been installed, giving them no choice but to agree or be unable to maintain their servers.

Forcing people to agree to a new contract on the spot?

This is appalling!

cPanel/WHM is not consumer entertainment software. This is operational internet-facing software used by businesses. The EULA sets out all manner of terms and conditions with operational, risk and security implications — not only for your direct customers but for their customers in turn.

To pick just two examples, you grant yourself the right to “access to any facilities in which the Software is used or stored, including without limitation the facilities which house the Licensed Server”, and to “copy, access, store, disclose and use cPanel Data indefinitely in its sole discretion”.

While there are phrases limiting those rights in some cases, you have not given your users a reasonable time in which to assess the changes, decide whether they will accept them and, if they are unhappy with them, to make other arrangements — let alone discuss them with their customers.

Maybe the changes are minimal. Maybe not. Did you provide us with a clear list of changes, explaining the implications? No, you did not.

Your customers face a true dilemma today. Do they roll back to the previous version of the software, knowing that it doubtless contains security flaws that have been patched in the new version? Or do they blindly accept your new EULA without being able to think through the implications for their business and their customers?

Your new EULA will not have been written overnight. Your lawyers will have taken time to consider it, and it will have gone through an approval process within your own company. Why did you not have the simple, basic courtesy to extend the same opportunity to your customers?

Not impressed.

I have pressed “I Agree” because I needed to perform an urgent maintenance task on my server. However I wish to make it clear that I have not, in fact, agreed to your new EULA because I have not been given a reasonable opportunity to consider it.

Your once-happy but now extremely unhappy customer,

Stilgherrian

Of course cPanel are far from the only example of this arsehattery. Who have you had to deal with lately?

5 Replies to “cPanel’s new EULA: more software industry arrogance?”

  1. Bank application over the phone. Minutes of being forced to listen to an automated “privacy statement” which I think meant “we can do what we like when we like with your information and change our mind as and when we please”. Standard fare for a bank but they force you to agree to it before you can proceed, and this is after 15 minutes of your life has been taken. I’m sure I also approved something significant when booking flights today but pressing “I agree” buttons has become a Pavlovian response.

  2. Overnight Australian time I’ve received an email from Aaron Phillips, cPanel’s vice president of operations. He’s asking for some specifics of my server before he makes an on-record reply.

    However he says it could well be that the EULA is unchanged, just presented again as part of the license activation. If so, that puts a very different perspective on things. Stand by.

    @Matthew Godfrey: Your key message there is that “pressing ‘I agree’ buttons has become a Pavlovian response”. And I reckon that for the vast majority of people it has.

    After all, the “OK” button now means “Get this dialog out of my face I’m trying to work”. My own experience supporting small businesses tells me the dialogs are rarely, if ever, read.

  3. We have to do this all the time.
    I work with spatial information systems, and without naming names, the industry giants have got us over a barrel and they know it.
    Opening the package on the software apparently constitutes agreement with the EULA (according to the sticker on the box) and yet you can’t read the EULA until you’ve opened/downloaded…
    At least their EULA is entertaining reading. Multiple clauses about not using it for missile guidance systems or similar. I know defence uses this stuff – i’m assuming they get a different license.

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