Various CueCat Hacks|
The CueCat was a promotional barcode scanner distributed for free to magazine subscribers and electronics store customers in the U.S. in 2000/2001. Consumers were instructed to hook up the device to their home computer, then use the CueCat to scan barcodes on products and print ads - in order to be taken directly to websites advertising the products. In addition to the Pavlovian undertones of CueCat's peculiar premise, CueCat had another trick up its sleeve: it transmitted a serial number with each scan, which was presumably stored in a database by Digital Convergence, CueCat's manufacturer. The CueCat also encrypted the barcodes it scanned, so that it was initially usable only with CueCat's proprietary software - which not surprisingly, required personal data from the user in order to install it. Thus DC could track the products a particular consumer had in their home as well as what ads they'd scanned. Not nice for privacy...
A number of people took up the challenge of "neutering" the CueCat. This took two main forms:
1) Disabling the serial number in the hardware
2) Breaking the encryption, so that it was no longer necessary to use the proprietary software with the CueCat.
This second form of neutering served the purposes both of circumventing the privacy-invading aspect of the proprietary software, and of allowing the scanner to be used for other purposes than looking at ads. Once the encryption was broken, various developers released software libraries to do the decryption - i.e. building blocks that other programmers could use to write software for the CueCat.
Unsurprisingly, many of these developers received cease-and-desist threats from Digital Convergence's lawyers. Several developers demanded substantiation of these infringement claims from DC. But apparently the DC lawyers never produced them. Most developers decided to keep their projects online despite the threats - so the decryption libraries continued to be available.
This submitter (Cue P. Doll) was one beneficiary of the fact that these libraries remained available - my software project CueJack allows the CueCat to be used to display web pages with information on boycotts, labor violations, health risks, etc., about a product or its manufacturers, rather than advertisements. CueJack uses a modified version of one of the open source CueCat decryption libraries, Barcode.pm to do the decryption. CueJack would not have been possible without the availability of such libraries, since there's no way I'd know how to figure out the encryption stuff myself. So thanks, CueNeuterers!
Here is a list of some of the CueCat hacks - some of whose authors document their go-rounds with Cease-and-Desist threats from DC. Note that the "download here" link just takes you to an archive of a site by one of the software authors involved, documenting various related CueCat-declawing activity:
CueCat Mirror List
Getting your CueCat declawed
How to Neuter a :Cat
Barcode Perl Module
OpenSource CueCat Software/Drivers
feature about this project: Various CueCat Hacks
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lawyer_resistant software for mac, windows, posix and linux
category: political and activist software/cease-and-desist-ware
uploaded by qp, 01 Jan 2003