The topic of copy protection, and how much is too much arose on Marc Hughes’ blog today.
Where is the line drawn, then? He asks about software phoning home, and the sorts of data that are proper to report, specifically inquiring about license keys, version reporting, and installation identifiers. Responding to each…
A license key would be perfectly acceptable by my standards. It isn’t personally identifiable information that the content owner doesn’t already have. Any information a license key can offer was likely provided to get said key, right?
A software version is non-intrusive as well, with most updating systems reporting this information to make sure patches get distributed to those who need them, unless the updater just queries the current version number, and compares it locally against your installed version. (On a side note, I would be interested to know how prevalent these methods are.)
Unique Installation Identifiers
A unique installation ID, though… since that information serves to target a specific user (or installation), and isn’t directly provided to the content author, and serves minimal benefit (if any) to the end-user… it just feels like data mining.
How to respond when there are more active installs than issued keys?
Regarding a threshold for disabling license keys, that really depends on how the disabling occurs. If it’s automatic, then it is probably too aggressive to disable the keys for limited apparent piracy. Especially if your software targets a corporate audience. Anything that slams the brakes on productivity is a good reason to start looking for another product.
Track the number of active installs for a given key, yes. Flag the key, absolutely. Disable it… manually?
Even better, pull the contact info for the offending keys, and send a friendly notification to them, offering the purchase of extra keys at a volume discount right based on the number of excess installations. This turns piracy into a potential sale.
Most of this post (aside from adding an introduction and headings, and a few syntax and presentation corrections) was originally featured as a comment on “What’s the right amount of copy protection?” at Marc’s Musings.