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.
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".
"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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