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Sony can update PS3 firmware without asking

The next time you fire up your PlayStation 3 console, you will probably be asked if you would like to install the latest firmware.

Like most PS3 owners, you'll be keen to get on with the business of shooting the hell out of hoards of pixelated Nazis or aliens whatever it is that's keeping your thumbs busy this week.

The vast majority of you will take one look at the 1,770 word End User License Agreement and digitally sign it without further thought. We know we usually do. Life's too short to spend your valuable time reading page after page of indecipherable legalese, right?

But following the recent row about Sony's arrogant - and potentially illegal - removal of the Install Other OS function from fat PS3s, we thought we'd take a closer look.

Sony's latest mandatory firmware update to version 3.30 fixes some stability issues, adds sorting options for trophies and reportedly paves the way for forthcoming 3D content.

It also includes a new EULA which we took the time to read, and it certainly raised a few eyebrows.

We draw your attention to section 3. Services and Updates:

From time to time, SCE may provide updates, upgrades or services to your PS3™ system to ensure it is functioning properly in accordance with SCE guidelines or provide you with new offerings.

Some services may be provided automatically without notice when you are online, and others may be available to you through SCE's online network or authorized channels. Without limitation, services may include the provision of the latest update or download of new release that may include security patches, new technology or revised settings and features which may prevent access to unauthorized or pirated content, or use of unauthorized hardware or software in connection with the PS3™ system.

Additionally, you may not be able to view your own content if it includes or displays content that is protected by authentication technology. Some services may change your current settings, cause a loss of data or content, or cause some loss of functionality. It is recommended that you regularly back up any data on the hard disk that is of a type that can be backed up.

What particularly caught our beady eye is the sentence "Some services may be provided automatically without notice when you are online" which basically means that Sony can do whatever the hell it wants to do to the content of your PS3 without notifying you or asking your permission.

At this juncture it's important to point out that we have no way of checking if this clause was included in previous version of the EULA*. Our extensive online searches have failed to come up with the text of anything before version 1.3, the current version being 1.4. But that's hardly the point.

The point is that Sony forces users to sign an agreement which allows you to use a piece of hardware which you have paid for, but allows Sony to make any changes they see fit to the way the console operates without notification or permission.

Historically, Sony has offered you a stark choice. You either agree to pander to its whims and continue playing with your expensive toy in the way in which the company proscribes, or you can refuse to install mandatory updates and be left with a console which can't play the latest software titles or connect to the Internet. The devil or the deep blue sea indeed.

As far as we can tell, Sony has never exercised its self-appointed right to secretly alter the functionality of its hardware by subterfuge, but who would know?

*Since publication, we have discovered that these clauses were, indeed, included in all versions of the EULA right back to 1.0 but - as we made clear - that's not the point we are making. Thanks to those readers who provided links and comments regarding previous versions, even the ones who called us nasty names.