Over the weekend, Flight Sim Labs was embroiled in a scandal after a Reddit user accused them of installing malware on users computers, this caused an uproar in the community which even spread outside into the wider world.
With the dust settling over the flight sim community, I spoke to Lefteris Kalamaras from Flight Sim Labs about what happened, and how he wants to move on from this:
How do you feel about the reaction this has received from the community?
I am quite aware that the decision we took to fight specific pirates this way with our installer did not go down well with the community and I wholeheartedly sympathise with our customers who felt we were not forthcoming with full disclosure in our heavy handed attempt to capture specific pirates who we now have evidence are hurting not only Flight Sim Labs’ livelihood, but the entire flight sim add-on development community by providing web sites where people can find, download and activate an entire spectrum of add-on products for free without any reward to the developers who spent years of their lives making them.
The community was very clear that this was a mistake. We hear you and we agree. The DRM methods we used, while designed to never be activated or even invoked on a paying customer’s computer, were not appropriate for the task. It is a hard lesson to learn and we are trying very hard to communicate back to the community that we regret this very much.
How is Flight Sim Labs moving on from this, what is changing to make sure this doesn’t happen again?
Flight Sim Labs released an updated version 232 installer for the A320-X for Prepar3D v4 that has removed the DRM tool in question. On top of this, we’ve already announced that we are refunding all Prepar3D v4 orders that contained the affected installers, as a small token of appreciation and an effort to reconcile with the v4 customers who felt we failed them. We intend to run this refund offer for several weeks so that people will have the time and opportunity to contact us about it.
How many people have requested refunds from you?
There have been more than a few requests. People are understandably upset. What was very surprising, heart-warming and very encouraging in such a difficult time for us, however, was the overwhelming response we received from many of our long-time customers who trusted us when we said that we never intended to, nor actually did place them under any harm and felt that they wanted to continue supporting us. We are very grateful to everyone who sent us emails, posts on Facebook or wrote in our forums to suggest they will stick with FSLabs because we make top-quality products which they have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy for a long time to come. Those customers – and other longtime FSLabs supporters – are the driving factor behind what we do and will be the motivation for us to keep producing high fidelity products.
Do you believe what you did was ethical?
It was heavy-handed for sure. We had been suffering for a long time by a continuously increasing drain in earnings due to piracy with many thousands of downloads of pirated copies of our software and as soon as we could pinpoint how this was done, we tried (using the wrong approach) to capture the specific pirate by capturing his details so we can enter the pirate websites. It is ironic that we were finally able to do that after the release of v230 of our installer, and we were ready to share our results with the proper legal authorities, but as soon as news of this spread, the pirate disappeared in the wind taking his web site with him.
I do recognize that our efforts to capture this pirate were questionable and we’ve apologized to the community for this. We are quite aware of the backlash, but also very surprised that there are many customers who felt that it was a warranted reaction, since the hobby is so small and any other previous efforts to contact the authorities so they could catch these pirates was met with indifference or lack of acknowledgement, even more so when country borders were crossed and contacts were made to remote locations like Russia or Algeria.
How long had that file been in the installer?
The Prepar3D v4 installers had the DRM tool in question until v232 when it got removed and updated on our download areas. I’d like to once again take the opportunity to stress very strongly that the tool would never activate, run or even remain on any customer’s computer, as the only possible purpose it served was to capture specific data details for specific pirate connections (IP, username, serial number, etc). No customer computer was ever affected or compromised in any way, as the DRM tool would only target known pirate details.