Opera Unite: another way to share, another nightmare for digital rights

I’ve been trying out Opera Unite. This is a web server built into the Opera 10 browser, now in beta. There’s nothing new about running your own web server; one comes free with Windows, and Apache is free for anyone to download and install in a few clicks. The difference with Unite is first that it’s packaged as a set of simple services, such as a chatroom, a note-sharing “fridge”, and a media sharing application; and second, that Opera handles the techie problems of opening firewall ports and sorting the DNS.

I clicked a few links in this informative Reddit discussion and was soon looking at the fridge on someone’s machine out there.

Shortly afterwards, I was enjoying one of their Beatles tracks:

Cool; never mind that the Beatles do not, as far as I know, allow any of their songs on legal download sites like iTunes or Spotify.

Today the UK government is publishing Digital Britain, which is expected to include new proposals for protecting digital rights. Opera’s new product is a reminder of how hopeless that is.

Security is not Unite’s strong point. Although users can protect their content or other services with a password, it is passed as plain text, which means it is vulnerable to network sniffers. Opera has sandboxed services to protect the user’s machine, though as ever bugs could produce security holes.

Developers can create their own services, of course, and there are some interesting possibilities here. One that users will like is the ability to share files such as photos without needing to upload them first.

I doubt Opera will mind much if the service is controversial. It’s great publicity for its minority-usage browser that is otherwise easy to forget.