Cisco Changes Privacy Policy in Cloud Connect Service

The networking giant responds to complaints from users about the automatic firmware updates to their new Linksys WiFi routers and privacy policy for Cloud Connect.

Cisco Systems officials are trying to repair the damage from the ham-fisted rollout of its Connect Cloud service, which angered users of some of the company€™s Linksys wireless routers who suddenly found they could no longer log in after an update, and then were told that Cisco was collecting their Internet histories.

The problems started after Cisco made its new Connect Cloud service available June 27. The service is designed to make it easy for consumers to connect their myriad mobile devices to their WiFi networks, and to manage those networks remotely via the mobile devices. Cisco officials said the service takes care of the various tasks involved with setting up and connecting devices to the network.

However, when the service went live, Cisco automatically pushed out an update for its new Linksys Smart WiFi routers, which the company introduced several months ago and has since reportedly sold more than 500,000. According to users, the update automatically connected the routers to the Cisco Connect Cloud, and users were unable to log in using the passwords they had used for their network management interface. Instead, they were asked to sign up for Connect Cloud.

At the same time, security concerns were quickly raised over a graph in the privacy policy for Connect Cloud. According to the policy, Cisco essentially could collect a wide variety of information on users, from their Internet histories to the status of the network to the Connect Cloud-related apps they€™re using. The information was needed to help Cisco better respond to concerns and requests, or improve the service.

At a time when Web users are particularly keyed into issues of privacy€”as illustrated by the uproars caused by Facebook, Google and similar Web companies when they make changes in their policies€”the reaction to Cisco€™s maneuvers was quick and strident on such Websites as Slashdot.

€œThis is typical of the short-term thinking that is all too common among corporations today,€ one user wrote on Slashdot. €œThey're throwing away their credibility with professional users€”you know, the ones who buy the expensive Cisco gear that generates most of their profits€”so they can grab a few quick bucks by data-mining the consumer market.€

€œI'll never buy another Linksys product,€ said another person. €œI don't want remote administration from the public Internet side of a router.€

Cisco officials have been trying to calm the roiling waters since. The company has replaced the original offending security policy graph with a more benign one€”including removing the part about collecting users€™ Internet histories. In addition, in a blog post June 29, Brett Wingo, vice president and general manager of Cisco€™s Home Networking unit, assured users that the company did not intend to violate their sense of privacy.

€œCisco prides itself on offering the best customer experiences, and privacy and security are at the core of everything we do,€ Wingo wrote. €œThat goes for Cisco Connect Cloud, too. When a customer signs up for a Cisco Connect Cloud account, personal information is used only to establish an account in order to provide customer support. Consistent with Cisco€™s practices, Cisco Connect Cloud does not actively track, collect or store personal info or usage data for any other purposes, nor is it transmitted to third parties.€

Cisco officials also are looking to better explain issues surrounding the automatic firmware updates and Connect Cloud options. On the company€™s Website, officials laid out instructions for returning the router€™s firmware to its original status and ensuring that users no longer get automatic upgrades. Users also can call Linksys customer support at 800-326-7114, and a customer service agent will walk them through the process of reverting the router back to its traditional set up.

Wingo also addressed it in his blog. €œCisco Connect Cloud was delivered only to consumers who opted in to automatic updates,€ he said. €œHowever, we apologize that the opt-out process for Cisco Connect Cloud and automatic updates was not more clear in this product release, and we are developing an updated version that will improve this process.€

Wingo said that Cisco takes the feedback it€™s gotten seriously, but hoped that despite the problems, users will €œgive Cisco Connect Cloud a try, though. I think you€™ll find it€™s a great way to simplify how you connect, control and interact with your connected devices, including personal entertainment and home appliances.€