Microsoft Media Player logs users' DVD picks

Microsoft Corp.'s latest media player software keeps track of what DVDs are played on a PC and shares that information with the software maker via the Internet, privacy watcher Richard Smith said in an advisory Wednesday.

Windows Media Player 8, which comes with Microsoft's Windows XP, contacts a Microsoft Web server each time a new DVD is played on a computer. The server is given a unique fingerprint for the DVD and the media player client, allowing Microsoft to track what movies are watched on a particular PC, Smith wrote in his advisory posted at http://www.computerbytesman.com/privacy/wmp8dvd.htm.

The unique code Windows Media Player 8 sends to Microsoft identifies the software, not the person using it. However, the anonymity could be lifted if the user signs up for the Windows Media e-mail newsletter, according to Smith.

Title and track information on the DVD are retrieved from Microsoft's server and stored in a file on the user's computer, Smith wrote in his advisory. This local file could pose a privacy problem if the PC is used by more than one person. A user could uncover what movies another user is watching.

Microsoft in its privacy policy for Windows Media Player did not disclose that the software connects to a Microsoft server for an exchange of data, Smith said. The company could use the collected information to compile a top 10 list of movies watched by Windows Media Player users or to show targeted advertisements based on what movies a user is watching, for example.

In a response to Smith published at his Website, Microsoft states it doesn't use the information at all. In addition, Microsoft says it does not believe this issue presents a privacy concern. Still, the software maker promises to amend its privacy policy to include the fact that Windows Media Player connects to the Web and that this procedure is not associated with personally identifiable information.

Users can turn off the Web lookup feature in Windows Media Player 8 by choosing to work offline in the "File" menu, Microsoft said. Another option is to change the privacy settings to block all "cookies."

Microsoft could not be reached for direct comment.

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Joris Evers

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