Software That Reports Usage Behavior to Maker
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Thread: Software That Reports Usage Behavior to Maker

  1. #1
    oldie ric-o's Avatar
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    Nov 2002

    Question Software That Reports Usage Behavior to Maker

    Have what I feel is an interesting topic that I hope spawns a good discussion/debate. I'm interested in your opinions...

    I know of a company (friend of a friend who works there) who has decided to start collecting usage data on how their software program is used. It will track use of all functions and kinds of data it will lookup. The communication mechanism it will use is through the Internet by way of web services-related protocols (the customers all have Internet access). Then they will take this data and use it for the following purposes:

    1. Modify program to increase usuability and highlight more common functions to hopefully improve the product. Program enhancements which it could sell as add-ons or bundle with upgrades, etc.
    2. Generate reports and sell them to the customers, who are businesses, which they will use to run their business. The reports will show how other similar businesses use the program, etc - it will be anonymous, business names wont be identified.
    3. Generate reports and sell them to the manufacturers and suppliers who supply the customers.

    This situation conjours up thoughts and opinions that I have regarding the future of the software industry and that is that I predict that there's a new shift coming where the software we buy will _phone home_ back to the manufacturer to report back how it's used. I realize that this is not new but is currently, at least in my experience, the exception and not the norm. I believe it will soon become the norm.

    It makes me think about how Intuit used that Internet registration service for TurboTax (customer uproar and since forced them to remove it from future versions) and Microsoft's Passport service...and others.

    To me, this usage _tracking_ is like the tracking cookies, spyware, and adware we remove from our Internet browser cache's via Adaware. I'm all for software vendors improving their product based on how people use it but where do we draw the privacy line?

    What are your thoughts about this?
    Do you see this new paradigm shift as I see it?
    Are you concerned about it or not?

  2. #2
    AO übergeek phishphreek's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    one word... well... two, really.


    A firewall and program control is very important with stuff like that.

    Hopefully they will be disclosing this to the "customers" and due to all the privacy uproars... offer a "opt in/out".

    I use the google toolbar all the time. It will frequently "phone home" if I have the advanced features enabled. They tell me this right up front. I have no problem with this... as long as I know what it is doing. I can enable/disable at my will. Do I want them to have a better service? (page rank and etc) Or, should I hope that everyone else wants better service too?

    I know almost any firewall will allow you to control your traffic (I say any... cause m$'s idea of a FW is crap). I use norton internet security on my m$ boxes. It allows me traffic control, program control, privacy control, even ad control. I tell it what to do, so I don't have too much to worry about in ways of programs "phoning home". I can also go a step further and create ACLs in the router. They don't help much with program control, but I can tell it what to let out/in as a backup.

    The programs that phone home that I don't like is m$. They don't tell you about it up front and you have to find out for yourself. I think that is total BS.
    Quitmzilla is a firefox extension that gives you stats on how long you have quit smoking, how much money you\'ve saved, how much you haven\'t smoked and recent milestones. Very helpful for people who quit smoking and used to smoke at their computers... Helps out with the urges.

  3. #3
    Senior Member nihil's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2003
    United Kingdom: Bridlington
    To me, this usage _tracking_ is like the tracking cookies, spyware, and adware we remove from our Internet browser cache's via Adaware. I'm all for software vendors improving their product based on how people use it but where do we draw the privacy line?
    I would say we draw the line right here! If I buy a product then what I do with it is my business until I decide to involve the supplier?

    Traditionally and legitimately the information you mention can be obtained from:

    1. The software User Group
    2. Your helpdesk analyses
    3. Customer satisfaction surveys
    4. Beta test sites
    5. Customer training

    The whole idea strikes me as foolish, as the software vendor does not know the customer's business or environment. I am talking at the level of business processes and their supporting procedures.

    Furthermore the product may not be the best for that business, and may not be being used properly. There are far too many organisations these days whose senior management seem to think that "computers are intuitive so training is optional"

    If I were the developer, I would far rather have feedback from customers who I know can run their business and use the software properly.

    Or would you really like your internal financial controls based on the Enron model

    And I haven't even considered the potential security implications of things "phoning home".....thank God for firewalls!

    Also if someone is surreptitiously gathering usage data and selling it to rivals.....that's industrial espionage?..........even if it is anonymous.

    Just my £0.02


  4. #4
    rebmeM roineS enilnOitnA steve.milner's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2003
    I think the real question is..

    Will the users of the software know what data it is collecting, the purpose of that data, how long it will be stored for, who will have access to it etc.

    If not - spyware IMHO

    IT, e-commerce, Retail, Programme & Project Management, EPoS, Supply Chain and Logistic Services. Yorkshire.

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