Trust in the Software Market

Sunday 9th November, 2008

So it seems that Spore’s creators are on the receiving end of a couple of law suits for secretly installing unremovable software on customers computers.

While I don’t know exactly what chance these suits have, I wish them the best of luck. Why? Because markets depend on trust, a point that the people who decided to quietly install SecuRom with Spore seem to have missed.

Trust is required between vendors and customers; trust that the price will be fair, trust that the goods will be as described, trust that the payment will be valid, and trust that privacy will be respected. Electronic Arts’ decision to ship this DRM payload breaks that trust because they try to hide it, and because they take the liberty of making dangerous and irreversible modifications to your property.

As George Akerlof highlighted in his seminal 1970 paper ‘The Market for Lemons‘, markets without trust (he describes a car vendor’s hidden knowledge of a vehicle’s state as “information asymmetry“) can be difficult and dysfunctional, with the whole market affected by a few bad eggs.

If trust deteriorates between software vendors and software consumers, the software market will become a worse place for everybody.

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