[Reader-list] Microsoft Media Player Logs Choices

Jaswinder Singh Kohli jskohli at fig.org
Fri Feb 22 04:41:03 IST 2002

Microsoft Media Player Logs Choices
 By D. Ian Hopper
AP Technology Writer
Wednesday, February 20, 2002; 4:18 PM

WASHINGTON –– Microsoft's new version of its popular Media Player
software is logging the songs and movies that customers play.

The company said Wednesday it was changing its privacy statement to
notify customers about the technology after inquiries from The
Associated Press.

The system creates a list on each computer that could be a treasure for
marketing companies, lawyers or others. Microsoft says it has no plans
to sell the data collected by Media Player 8, which comes free with the
Windows XP operating system.

"If you're watching DVDs you don't want your wife to know about, you
might not want to give her your password," said David Caulton,
Microsoft's lead program manager for Windows Media.

The new privacy policy was issued Wednesday.

The media player has been bundled as a free addition to Windows for
several years and allows users to play music CDs, DVD movies and
digitally stored songs on their computers.

When a CD is played, the player downloads the disc name and titles for
each song from a Web site licensed by Microsoft. That information is
stored on a small file on each computer in the latest version of the

The new version released with Windows XP last fall also added the same
technology for DVD movies.

Microsoft's original privacy statement informed customers that they were
downloading the information about CDs but never stated it was being
stored in a log file on each computer.

The new statement makes clear that information is being downloaded for
both DVDs and CDs, but does not explain how users can eliminate or get
into the log file.

"It definitely could have been clearer and more specific about DVDs,"
Caulton said.

As part of downloading the information about songs and movies from the
Web site, the program also transmits an identifier number unique to each
user on the computer. That creates the possibility that user habits
could be tracked and sold for marketing purposes.

Privacy experts said they feared the log file could be used by
investigators, divorce lawyers, snooping family members, marketing
companies or others interested in learning about a person's
entertainment habits. It also could be used to make sure users have paid
for the music or movie, and have not made an illegal copy.

"The big picture might be the owners of intellectual property wanting to
track access to their property," said Peter Swire, a law professor at
Ohio State University.

Microsoft said the program creates the log file so a user does not have
to download repeatedly the same track, album or movie information. The
company said the ID number was created simply to allow Media Players
users to have a personal account on the Web site dealing with the

Neither is sold or shared with others, and no information is collected
on Microsoft's servers that would be personally identifiable, officials

"This is essentially a case where it (the ID) doesn't serve any purpose
and it isn't used," Caulton said.

Jonathan Usher, another Windows Media executive, said Microsoft has no
plans to market aggregate information about its customers' viewing
habits, but would not rule it out.

"If users tell us that they want the ability to get recommendations,
that's something we could look into on the behalf of users," Usher said.

In a recent memo, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates ordered his company to
check for privacy and security concerns before adding new features.

"Users should be in control of how their data is used," Gates wrote.
"Policies for information use should be clear to the user. Users should
be in control of when and if they receive information to make best use
of their time."

Privacy researcher Richard Smith, who researched how Media Player stored
and transmitted the information, questioned why the program has to give
chapter information for DVDs at all because almost all discs have
chapter listings in an interactive menu within the movie.

He said the feature seems to conflict with Gates' directive.

"You can really see the Microsoft culture coming through that Gates
wants to change. These guys are digging in their heels," he said.


Jaswinder Singh Kohli
jskohli at fig.org
The Uni(multi)verse is a figment of its own imagination.
In truth time is but an illusion of 3D frequency grid programs.

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