Opting In May Not

By Ryan Naraine  |  Posted 2005-05-31 Print this article Print

Help Users"> Rick Fleming, chief technology officer of IT security-services firm Digital Defense Inc., said Microsoft should be credited for setting up the opt-in process, but warned that it could be a "double-edged sword" if consumers cant figure out how to opt out. "Any time you put that decision in the hands of the end user, it could cause problems. The average consumer will just hit YES and send everything, even if there is a choice to pick and choose what to send," Fleming said.
"If you present the user with a screen full of information, even if its formatted nicely, the majority wont be able to figure it out. Thats always a concern," he said.
Fleming also noted that the error-reporting opt-in choice being introduced with Longhorn will be done during setup to avoid prompting the user every time a crash occurs. He warned that bugs in the system could cause more than just basic data to be sent, without the secondary opt-in that the company insists would be in place if sensitive data is involved. However, Microsoft insiders said that the initial opt-in applies only to "parameters," or a basic description of the problem. "Parameters will never contain any private or sensitive information," a source said. Parameters will typically cover the name, version and timestamp of the ".exe" or ".dll" files involved with the crash. Even with an opt-in option presented up front, the source said end users must provide a second consent before the tool collects information that could potentially contain sensitive data. Robert McLaws, president of IT consulting firm Interscape Technologies Inc., said he was not overly worried about the Dr. Watson makeover. "The privacy concerns are legitimate, but, at the end of the day, Microsoft is focused on building an operating system that runs all the time. If this helps to get Longhorn to a place where software crashes are a thing of the past, Im okay with these changes." McLaws, a Microsoft MVP who runs the Longhorn Blogs network, said the Dr. Watson enhancements will ultimately benefit computer users: "Windows XP and XP SP2 [Service Pack 2] are much more stable because of error reporting and the Watson tool. I can only see good coming out of this." Since adding Dr. Watson to the Windows client, Microsoft executives say the company has been able to zero in on—and provide fixes for—software crashes. About 85 percent of all of the crashes reported by Dr. Watson were caused by just six drivers, which meant that Microsoft could work closely with third-party developers to get the drivers fixed. While this sharing of data with third-party companies also raised red flags, a company source said the terms of the information sharing are detailed in Microsofts Data Collection Policy. "Data is only shared when appropriate to get things fixed for customers," the source said. Despite the initial worry, Cybertrusts Cooper said he has always been comfortable with the information collected by Microsoft. "Weve yet to hear of any large breach even though Microsoft is a high-priced target thats always under attack. I trust Microsoft to do a reasonable job of educating their customers about how the opt-in and opt-out will work, especially the average home user," Cooper said. Like McLaws, Cooper said the enhanced error reporting is the "best way to address stability issues" in the operating system. Check out eWEEK.coms for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.


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