They seem to be using it (Starforce, Securom, something) strictly to control online license activations... I've installed it on two machines now and it has counted down how many 'activations' I have left from the three you get. One more to go. I have heard, however, that an uninstall frees an activation count back up but don't know that for certain.
From what I've read, the retail copy doesn't need to be activated online.