If you use a computer running Microsoft Windows and you’re like me, you might just click “OK” when you’re presented with software updates to install. Those updates come in fast and furious, and with so many viruses and worms out there it’s a better approach than not installing any updates at all. But for some reason this morning I paused to review the two updates Windows wanted me to install, and what I saw gave me pause.
One of these updates was down-listed as merely “Optional,” was a useful update for my computer, allowing it to read SD cards with more than 32 gigabytes of storage space. The other update was priority-listed as “Important.” What did it do that was so important? Add a program called Bing Bar.
What does the Bing Bar do, other than promote the use of Microsoft brand web services and stick buttons on your screen to launch programs that already exist? It collects personal information on you, ostensibly to help you fill out forms and “improve Bing and your online experience,” but also to make money off of information about you.
While it explains how it will track you, Microsoft swears up and down that it doesn’t sell your information, oh no:
Your Windows Live ID will be used for the purposes of fulfilling the Bing Rewards Preview. Information related to your participation in the Bing Rewards Preview including that set forth below, is stored in connection with your Windows Live ID. The information collected enables us to properly record your Rewards credits, protect against fraud, and to improve Bing and your online experience. The information collected includes your system configuration and IP address, the number of searches you do, and your interaction with search advertising (but not the content of the ads). This information is collected and stored in connection with your Windows Live ID for up to 15 months. At any point you may discontinue participation in the Bing Rewards Preview and remove the Bing Bar. The Reward Counter will stop counting your searches and collecting the information described above when the Rewards program ends on September 30, 2011 or when you discontinue participation in the Bing Rewards Preview. The Bing Rewards Preview is offered in addition to the Bing search services available to users, and to learn more about the Bing search services, please read the Microsoft Online Privacy Statement….
No, we won’t share, lease or rent your information to third parties. To see how Microsoft uses and protects the information you provide, please see the Microsoft Online Privacy Statement.
If it doesn’t “share, lease or rent your information to third parties,” Microsoft still makes money off of your personal information. The Microsoft Online Privacy Statement lays it out:
In short, Microsoft doesn’t directly sell your information. It sells advertising and spam e-mail capability targeted to people who live where you live, who work where you work, who do things on the internet that you do, and who conduct Microsoft Bing searches for information like you do. Microsoft keeps all that behavioral information in a database, along with your name, your e-mail address, your computer’s IP address, and any other contact or personal information that you are willingly or unwittingly send Microsoft’s way. And sometimes Microsoft provides (not sells! oh, no) that information to other companies.
Is all that worth a stupid toolbar with redundant buttons on it?
That’s a rhetorical question. You know the answer.