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1/20/2006
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Microsoft's Data Collection Troubles Some Users

Microsoft monitors the security health of PCs running its OneCare Live security service by collecting data from users' computers, but some users think it's too much.

Microsoft routinely and remotely monitors the security health of PCs running its OneCare Live security service by collecting a wide range of information from users' computers, including a machine-specific identifier.

It's a policy the software giant does not attempt to hide, but it is a practice that is nonetheless unsettling to some users. It's also a more extensive data collection system than that practiced by Microsoft's rival in the managed security space.

According to an entry posted this week to the OneCare team's blog, the service has "noticed a slight increase in the number of people turning off their firewall, with a corresponding decrease in the number of green machines." (OneCare, a collection of anti-virus, firewall, tune-up, and backup tools, displays the overall security status as with 'green' for good or 'red' for bad.)

"Through a combination of surveys, emails and customer communication, we maintain a close watch on the 'health' status indicators, such as, percent of users with anti-virus out of date, or the ratio of customers that are regularly backing up files," wrote the unnamed blogger.

Only one of the comments linked to the blog was from a user worried about privacy issues. "Should user [sic] be concerned that Window Onecare is sending information back to Microsoft regarding status of customers’ machines, red/green percentage and other stuff that were [sic] not aware of?" wrote someone identified only as "Nick."

"Can you guys explained [sic] what other information are you receiving? I'm pretty much worried about privacy and in the later version will we have a chance to disable this?" Nick added.

Actually, OneCare Live has a very extensive privacy statement on its site that spells out what data is collected, and how often that data is gathered from users' PCs.

"If you subscribe to the Windows OneCare service and install the Windows OneCare software, certain information about your machine and use of the service will automatically be transmitted to Microsoft in order to permit us to provide the service and help keep your machine operating in a trouble-free manner," states the privacy policy.

Microsoft collects such things as the frequency of backups, changes to the firewall, viruses encountered, and the overall 'health' of the system, as well as a computer-specific identifier that's generated by OneCare.

In another online document, Microsoft goes into even greater detail on what it collects, when, and how often.

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