This story was written by Keith Dawson for the Industry Standard's Media Grok email newsletter. It is archived here for informational purposes only because The Standard's site is no more. This material is Copyright 1999-2001 by Standard Media.

Real Privacy
Nov 02 1999 12:00 AM PST

Scott McNealy of Sun (SUNW) Microsystems uttered the signature soundbyte on privacy in the information age: "You already have zero privacy. Get over it." The media are waking up to this reality, big time. When a computer security researcher revealed that RealNetworks (RNWK)' popular media player, RealJukebox, was sending your personal data to the company every time you popped in a CD, it made front-page news. RealJukebox has 13.5 million registered users.

Real had been scrambling to repair the damage even before the New York Times' Sara Robinson broke the story on Monday. Robinson wrote that Real's surreptitious reporting of personal data - the number of songs stored on the hard drive, their file formats, the user's preferred music genre and the type of portable music player connected to the computer - was not mentioned in either the company's privacy policy or RealJukebox's license agreement.

Real modified its Web-posted privacy policy either on Monday or last weekend - reports differ - to mention that it assigns a unique ID to every user. Wired News' Leander Kahney described today the displeasure of Truste, the nonprofit industry group that had certified Real's privacy policy and issued it a "Trustmark (TRMK)" seal. Kahney reported that Truste plans to investigate the Real situation and may end up reporting the company to the FTC or suing for breach of contract. Problem is, Truste only certifies what the Web-posted privacy policy says, not what a standalone software package does.

Seattle-based RealNetworks' hometown papers were not out front on this story. Grok could find no coverage in the Seattle Times (dossier), and today's Post-Intelligencer unaccountably ran an older version of AP copy, filed when Real's privacy breach was first discovered. The AP story carried by USA Today and others was fronted by an eight-paragraph update on RealNetworks' response to the firestorm.

Yesterday Real announced a software patch to fix the problem. Most of today's stories - by CNET (CNET), AP and Wired - said Real's patch would stop RealJukebox from sending any data back to the company. Only the Times' Robinson reported that the patch would simply issue each user a new ID number so that the data that is sent couldn't be matched up with a user's identity.

The Wall Street Journal's coverage noted that Real is not alone in gathering data from music fans. MusicMatch, which recently announced a marketing deal with Microsoft (MSFT), also collects usage information. Unlike Real, though, MusicMatch informs the user during the installation process and offers a chance to opt out. - K.D.

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