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Old 27-February-2002, 22:49
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Angry Microsoft under fire over 'DVD lookup'

Taken from: http://www.vnunet.com/News/1129399

Microsoft under fire over 'DVD lookup'
By James Middleton [21-02-2002]
Windows Media Player is watching you
Microsoft came under fire from privacy advocates and security watchers yesterday when it emerged that Windows Media Player (WMP) for XP was capable of tracking which DVD movies were being watched and sending the information back to Redmond.
Richard Smith, who released a paper detailing the extent of the snooping yesterday, said: "Design choices were made in WMP which allow Microsoft to individually track what DVD movies consumers are watching on their Windows PC.

"These were introduced in version 8 of WMP which ships preinstalled on all Windows XP systems."

Using a packet sniffer, Smith discovered that WMP queried a Microsoft server via the internet protocol HTTP every time a DVD was played.

The information identifies the movie being played, downloads title information and attributes a cookie to identify a particular WMP player.

The WMP software also builds a small database on the computer hard drive of all DVD movies that have been watched on the computer.

"There does not appear to be any option in WMP to stop it from 'phoning home' when a DVD movie is viewed. In addition, there does not appear to be any easy method of clearing out the DVD movie database on the local hard drive," said Smith.

He indicated that the privacy policy for WMP 8 does not disclose the fact that the software gets DVD title information, what kind of tracking Microsoft does with the details, and how cookies are used by the WMP software and the Microsoft servers.

David Caulton, lead product manager at the Windows digital media division, replied that Microsoft "does not believe the DVD metadata lookup process in WMP XP presents a user privacy concern".

But the software giant has amended the privacy policy for WMA, available here, to "specifically include DVD lookup. We also will make it clear that we do not associate this cookie with personally identifiable information."

"Users can reset the identifier at any time by clearing cookies from Internet Explorer," explained Caulton.

He added that the database is never sent across a network and is kept private to the host computer.

Caulton also explained that a user can disable this transaction "by simply setting their privacy level in Internet Explorer to 'block all cookies' or by selecting 'work offline' in the player, which will prevent it from doing DVD lookup".
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Old 28-February-2002, 02:03
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I've just done a check on my version of WMP and it is only 7.01.

However in opening WMP to check the version (it was 7.01) Zone Alarm kicked in and asked if I wanted WMPLAYER.EXE to access the Internet.

When I replied "NO" WMP displayed a "This page cannot be found message" in the main program screen. A double-clicked media file replaced this message with no problems.


He indicated that the privacy policy for WMP 8 does not disclose the fact that the software gets DVD title information, what kind of tracking Microsoft does with the details, and how cookies are used by the WMP software and the Microsoft servers.


One can only speculate that Microsoft this procedure will be of no benefit to the final consumer!!!! There seems commercial potential in monitoring DVD useage to develop anti-piracy software a further stage.


Thanks for the information Gem.

Last edited by Worldlife; 28-February-2002 at 09:09.
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Old 28-February-2002, 21:58
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Ah. That'll probably be because you've got it configured to open the "Media Guide" when you open Windows Media Player. The "media guide" is basically a web page that harps on about how wonderful all the latest movies and music are, and has links to shops that try to sell you CD's DVD's videos computer games and books on it. Turn this feature off and Windows Media Player won't do it again.

I have Windows Media Player 7.01 installed, used to use ZoneAlarm Pro but changed to Tiny when it packed up, and I can honestly say that Windows Media Player has never even tried.

Well - most of the time, anyway. Except when playing CD's. You need to be a bit careful about that. But playing MP3's or MPEGs or any other kind of media file on your hard disk or a CDROM most definitely doesn't make Windows Media Player try to phone home.
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Old 28-February-2002, 23:24
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Thanks Squidgy I've now unticked the "Open Media Guide" as the default from the program was "enabled".

Mainly use WMP (or RealPlayer Plus) for playback of video clips from my own camcorder files and editing programs. DVD not of much interest except for program cover discs.
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Old 02-March-2002, 14:41
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I stand corrected. Tiny's caught setup_wm trying to phone home just now whilst playing a playlist of MP3's I've made as an ASX file using a program I've written that creates ASX files automatically (that's one of the reasons I use Windows Media Player from time to time - it's so easy to bang together playlists that do clever things).

I guess it was trying to get some updated decompression codecs. Not sure, though, that's just a guess. Not sure why either, it's playing the MP3's quite happily. Oh well .... But yeah, turning off the feature that opens that media guide web page will cut down on it, and you'll probably find that starting Windows Media Player up is probably a lot quicker too.
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computer, design, digital, feature, files, home, internet, lookup, make, metadata, music, network, phone, player, product, screen, security, software, web, windows, zone, zonealarm

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