(Note: Nicole wrote this for The Voice newspapers in .... it had to be late 1994.)


By Nicole Chardenet


Privacy is a big issue for computer users today whether you're on the Internet or an on-line service or you just connect to your local BBS. Recent invasive practices like the Clipper chip, which would have allowed the government to access a "back door" into your computer system if they deemed you were some kind of a security risk, have fortunately been defeated in cases over individual rights.

Recently attention has focused on the possible invasions of privacy involved in on-line registration, when you connect with your computer to register with a service or an Internet provider or just to register a new piece of software you've bought.

I heard rumors a few months ago that services like Prodigy and America On-Line were using on-line registration technology to quietly scan the files in their customers' computers, ostensibly for marketing purposes, to get an idea what their customers were interested in, be it games or word processing packages or multimedia features. Whether they actually do it or not is unclear, but the technology does exist and has been used by others in the past.

Although it has not necessarily been used for nefarious purposes. Some companies were interested only in scanning one's system configuration, which would help them troubleshoot technical problems one might have in the future. But is it really their business to know what games you play or how many X-rated video files you store on your computer?

There have been reports in the on-line community that Microsoft's Windows 95, scheduled for an August release date, will have such a technology implemented. But according to a company statement issued last month, they will not be downloading your serial numbers, product registration information, or what network configuration you have. They claim the program asks permission to gather and send specific data.

The same may not necessarily be said for Symantec Corporation, developers of the popular Norton Utilities diagnostic software. They are reportedly working with on-line technology to gather standard registration information and may use it to combat software piracy.

Symantec has already had to answer for unauthorized snooping connected to a program designed to scan the systems of customers for configuration data. Officials have since disabled the function and claimed they didn't know it was doing that.

The bottom line is, if you don't want computer companies and services of any sort snooping around your directories, be warey of on-line registration. It's certainly more convenient than sending in that little postcard (I know I never send it in either) but it's more secure if you don't want to risk these possible invasions of privacy.

This sort of software, whether it's used to catch software pirates or just collect marketing information, is apparently attracting a lot of attention from the computer industry. It should be attracting our, the end users', attention as well. The Big Brother Clipper chip was defeated. So too should be its younger sister.

*** Ever wanted to tell Newt Gingrich what a great job he's doing? Neither have I, but when a guy does something praiseworthy I believe in letting him know. So I e-mailed Der Newtster this week to let him know I appreciated his speaking out against the recent Senate Bill 314, also known as the Exon bill, that just passed, albeit watered down from its original incarnation. The bill basically set up censorship efforts on the Internet, and Mr. Gingrich spoke out agains the First Amendment violation. The Speaker promptly e-mailed me in return to let me know how much he enjoyed hearing from me. I guess his flunkies ignored the part where I told him it was the first intelligent thing he'd said since the last election.

President Clinton repsonds more quickly, though. I heard from him in one day last year! Maybe he pays his flunkies more, I don't know...! As usual, you can e-mail your suggestions, comments, flames, questions, or outraged reactions to software snooping at:


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