Panic at 30,000 virtual feet

There’s panic in the world of flight simulators, with a controversial developer threatening legal action against reddit of all places.

The story revolves around Flight Sim Labs, Ltd., a flight sim aircraft developer recently found to have put malware into a virtual airbus, and a couple of messages sent to the moderators of /r/flightsim threatening legal action over a discussion thread.

The thread in question was posted by redditor walkday, who noticed the latest installer of Flight Sim Labs’ A320X aircraft inserted two cmdhost.exe files under “system32\” and “SysWOW64\” of their Windows directory. Removing them prevented the A320X from loading. As you’d expect, users expressed concern that a developer’s .exe file put something in their Windows directory, which you’re supposed to stay well away from unless you want your computer to start breathing heavily indeed.

The discussion became lively enough for Flight Sim Labs to issue a statement about cmdhost. It insisted the .exe is part of its eSellerate infrastructure, which communicates between the eSellerate server and Flight Sim Labs’ product activation interface. It was designed, the company said, to reduce the number of product activation issues. In short, it’s about anti-piracy.

“This is not a new discovery or something we have ever sought to hide away,” the company said.

“The file has been passed to all the major antivirus houses in order for them to verify that it is legitimate, and is also reported clean by Virus Total. If you have any concerns, we urge you to submit it to your preferred antivirus company for testing.”

That, you imagine, would be that. But it wasn’t. Now, the moderators at /r/flightsim have published two messages sent by marketing and PR manager Simon Kelsey, each threatening legal action over libel.

“I would hate for lawyers to have to get involved in this,” Kelsey wrote in the first message, “and I trust that you will take appropriate steps to ensure that no such libels are posted.”

The second message carried a more serious tone – and a more serious threat – from Kelsey:

“Please take immediate action to remove these and any future libellous comments or I will have no option to pass the matter to our legal team for further action. I would remind all concerned that the burden of proof in a libel case rests with the defendant.”

Tough words indeed. Well, the moderators at /r/flightsim don’t seem bothered at all by Kelsey’s messages, hitting back in an open letter to Flight Sim Labs that accuses the company of various nefarious shenanigans, including reporting critical comments (an abuse of the report system), harassment and vote manipulation.

“Removing content you disagree with is simply not within our purview,” the post reads.

And then the kicker: the mods point out that they’re mods, and not employees of reddit.

“We are simply users of this site who volunteer our spare time to manage a community of like-minded people. And, as moderators, we have always and will continue to ensure our community is not subject to heavy handed moderating and censorship. We will do nothing to limit their ability to respond to criticisms in an open and fair discussion – in fact, we encourage it.”

The mods say they will not remove the post in question, and suggest Flight Sim Labs send its legal threats to contact@reddit.com.

While it’s understandable Flight Sim Labs would want to defend itself from damaging accusations, trying to influence discussion on reddit and threatening mods with legal action seems like a misguided way of doing it and only adds to the PR disaster the company is currently engulfed in. Perhaps an apology, a promise to do better and simply dragging the offending files to a different location on customers’ computers would be a better move.

Who said flight simulators are boring?

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