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Microsoft Tracking Behavior of Newsgroup Posters 543

Posted by timothy
from the target-market dept.
theodp writes "Ever get the feeling your Usenet newsgroup list is being watched? By Microsoft? If so, consider yourself right. An interesting but troubling CNET interview with Microsoft's in-house sociologist goes into how the software giant is keeping a close eye on newsgroups and other public e-mail lists, tracking and rating contributors' social habits and determining "people who the system has shown to have value." Those concerned that it's not a good idea for computers to track their belongings and whereabouts are advised that they may ultimately have to fragment their identities, keeping multiple IDs and e-mail addresses."
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Microsoft Tracking Behavior of Newsgroup Posters

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  • Good (Score:5, Funny)

    by smitty_one_each (243267) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:31PM (#6746718) Homepage Journal
    Hopefully the general contempt for proprietary, inferior solutions will drive them towards some better stuff.
  • Huh? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BoomerSooner (308737) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:31PM (#6746726) Homepage Journal
    " Those concerned that it's not a good idea for computers to track their belongings and whereabouts are advised that they may ultimately have to fragment their identities, keeping multiple IDs and e-mail addresses."

    Who isn't already doing this?

    With the advent of spam most people I know abandonned their first email address years ago. I have one for each service I use (including slashdot).
    • by NightSpots (682462) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:54PM (#6747062) Homepage
      Now that they've confirmed that they do this, there's only one thing to remember:

      Before you fly up to Redmond for your interview, make sure you post a year's worth of insightful commentary on major relevant newsgroups, with your name and email attached
    • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Funny)

      by OneIsNotPrime (609963) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @03:26PM (#6747423)
      Yes, who among us doesn't already keep multiple Slashdot accounts to mod ourselves up as "Insightful" every once in a while?

      Err... never mind.

      Well I think I deserve it.

    • I don't (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Barlo_Mung_42 (411228) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @03:43PM (#6747601) Homepage
      I am Barlo Mung. Barlo Mung is me. It's my email address. It's my counter strike nic.
      I'm not going to pretend to be anyone else.
      Want to dredge up all the postings I've made anywhere on the internet? Go ahead. WTF do I care. If I didn't want people to read it and know it came from me, Barlo, I would not have posted it.
  • by Pvt_Waldo (459439) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:32PM (#6746735)
    Hmm a system that tracks who's posts are of value and who's are not. I would suggest a scheme where they mark people's post as "Interesting", "Informative", and other such words. Maybe some way to mark them as "Funny" and even "Flame bait" or "Troll" if they are just obnoxious posters trying to get a fight going.

    What do you think? Would it work?

    Oh wait!
    • Hurry! Patent the idea! You might still be able to beat Microsoft!
    • by Anonymous Coward
      What do you think? Would it work?

      I think the obvious answer to that would be a resounding no :)
    • by Asprin (545477) <gsarnold@y a h o o .com> on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:59PM (#6747105) Homepage Journal

      What do you think? Would it work?

      Beats me -- I'm still swamped trying to develop a web shopping site that lets you buy things with less than 2 mouse clicks. (I've got it down to four!)

      Maybe I can give you a hand once I get this whole "hyperlink" thing in the box and ready to ship.

      • Really, the best trick is to anticipate what your customers would click on if they needed to click, and just go ahead and ship it out and bill their credit card.
    • Sure, it works. (Score:3, Informative)

      by twitter (104583)
      Newgroups work great. With clueful search engines like Google, it's better than ever. People all over have the same problems and can find solutions with very little effort now, without catalogs user manuals and other junk. This truely is an information revolution. Free software is a direct result of this kind of knowledge sharing, but it has spilled out into all fields.

      Microsoft has hated it forever [essential.org]. For much the same reasons movie makers [slashdot.org] and other large advertisers of shoddy junk hate information

  • by Eric Ass Raymond (662593) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:32PM (#6746738) Journal
    Did you guys really think that Microsoft's not profiling the Slashdot users, or the Linux kernel contributors or anyone they deem as a valuable target?

    My god, you are so naive.

    • Yes they are, as evidenced by the MS-Fanboy ac posts on many threads. It was also the reason for my first post [slashdot.org] but the exercise fell short of the moderators expectations (Plus any chance to get a baseless jab in at Microsoft is time well spent)
    • by crazyphilman (609923) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @03:15PM (#6747295) Journal
      It's not just Microsoft. There are companies called "clipping services" which have been around for decades. They employ warehouses full of people, reading newspapers from all around the country, clipping out articles that relate to a client or set of clients. The client would get a notice mailed to him/her including the clipping and some time/date/source info. Just about every newspaper in the country is monitored.

      Over the years, the clipping services expanded out, adding AP feeds, Newswire, etc. They suck articles right off the wire and store them for their customer's perusal. Then they added newsgroup and chatroom monitoring, and of course web monitoring. They use web spiders to capture the info, and databases to store it.

      This is very widespread, and it's been going on for years. Do a google search on "clipping services" if you don't believe me. Anything you write online about a company who can afford the service is noticed, printed out, and sent to them by a flunky.

      Why worry? It's not like you can do anything about it. So Microsoft knows that I think they suck. Big deal. Hey, Gates! You suck! See? No hitmen busting down my door, no guidos breaking my leggaggdafsafal;nfdasl'(MESSAGE TERMINATED)

  • I read the article! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by teamhasnoi (554944) * <teamhasnoi&yahoo,com> on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:32PM (#6746742) Homepage Journal
    It sounds like interesting and useful tech for USENET, but there is the question of MS doing it. I'd have far less reservations about it if Google was behind it.

    The AURA just sounds like the CueCat Digital Convergence people who wanted to put a bar code on everything. Again, MS is not the company I'd like to see doing this.

    *Rather Offtopic - but Digital Convergence used to advertise the CueCat with an 'Angel coming down to earth from heaven to barcode everything' and the well-known Digital Angel RFID people have also made a religious reference in the company's name. The hue and cry of Christian's 'the number of the beast' references beg the question:

    Who the hell is doing marketing for these people? I remember getting an icky feeling when I saw the 'infomercial' for the CueCat, and similarly the Digital Angel website. And I'm not the 'churchy' type. I can only imagine what the fundies think...

    * This idea is copyrighted. Use of this idea may not be used to more attractively market 'evil' technology, or put a chip in my head. Thanks.

    • by TheGrayArea (632781) <graymc@c[ ]net ['ox.' in gap]> on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:50PM (#6747014) Homepage
      A big reason for this type of research in MS is to push the community support model. If MS can create a scenario where many questions get answered in a community model like newsgroups by unpaid volunteers/posters, it lowers the overall cost of product support for MS. Newsgroup support is becoming a big thing around Microsoft Product Support. There are actually engineers whose sole job is to monitor and respond to newsgroup postings.
      It's all about support costs. Supporting newsgroups is very cheap and also very easy to farm out overseas to folks who really do nothing but paste in answers from scripts.
      • "Supporting newsgroups is very cheap and also very easy to farm out overseas to folks who really do nothing but paste in answers from scripts. "

        Your fear of overseas workers is clouding your judgement. The main reason people go to newsgroups is *precisely* because they want to avoid the cut and paste replies of unskilled people. And the main reason a company will support a newsgroup is precisely because their own customers (some of them skilled) will contribute to it without getting paid.

        But if you know

        • Try the public microsoft newsgroups. Yep, those exact ones. A lot of the newgroups are watches by the Shanghai subsidiary amoung others with engineers here in the US checking up on on some of the threads on a regular basic. Yes Microsoft supports newsgroups because of the skilled folks (unpaid) that answer, but they also do it because it's a way to lower support costs for the lower echelon of customers and yes a fair chunk of it is done overseas.
          I'm not saying this is all a bad thing, I'm just pointing
    • Goddamnit people! It's ':Cue:Cat'!

      Eri:c :Chavez
      :CEO, Digital :Convergen:ce

    • by MushMouth (5650)
      I mean really, they have absolutely no oversight, have a spyware toolbar that somehow doesn't get flagged by adaware (I think they fear google, or are just a bunch of idiots) although nobody knows what they do with their data. Google is very powerful, and should be eyed with as much suspicion as any other for profit corporation.
      • by HiThere (15173) *
        You are, of course, moderately correct. But Google hasn't *yet* proven itself worthy of distain, unlike certain other companies.

        Right now Google's reputation is one of the corporate assets. And they are taking good care of it. Next year, who knows.

        P.S.: For profit isn't what makes an organization untrustworthy. It's centralized power. Once centralized power comes to exist the psychos become greedy to take it over. (And having observed myself, I know that sometimes these psychos were the same people
  • by burgburgburg (574866) <splisken06@emai3.14l.com minus pi> on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:33PM (#6746748)
    Microsoft knows you're a dog.

    Woof.

  • by gregarican (694358)
    Rather than an "in-house sociologist" (WTF?!) they should hire an entire department of programmers/hackers/crackers to bang, stress test, and exploit their subpar code. Maybe then they would avoid some of their recent security faux pas.

    Reading this thread makes me want to rant-post on some of their boards! They should buy out the Church of $cientology too. That would make a great team.

  • Those concerned that it's not a good idea for computers to track their belongings and whereabouts are advised that they may ultimately have to fragment their identities, keeping multiple IDs and e-mail addresses.

    Did this line remind anyone else of Philip K. Dick's thoroughly perplexing novel "A Scanner Darkly"?
  • He has clue (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Wizard of OS (111213) * on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:34PM (#6746776)
    Interesting article. I found one very interesting quote:
    I'm a social scientist--I don't know the difference between good and bad, only the difference between difference.
  • Who cares (Score:3, Insightful)

    by josh crawley (537561) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:34PM (#6746779)
    It seems that once Microsoft starts tracking the behavior of individuals, you're asking for trouble. What about privacy?

    I think it's a very important thing. And we have build NetScan to protect what I think are legitimate claims for privacy. Like a Net spider, NetScan takes publicly accessible documents off the Internet, and it respects metadata that says "Leave me alone!" There is the robots.txt file that says, "You can look at this but not that." With Usenet there is one that says "Leave my messages alone," and we respect that. We will not store your messages if you put that in them.

    So tell me again why this is stuff that matters?
    • Tell me, exactly what do I put into my .sig to keep them from indexing my correspondence ?

      robots.txt is a well-established standard. Microsoft has been analyzing Usenet and mailing list postings *without* publicizing what the equivalent is for their system.

      That's what bothers people.
      • Re:Who cares (Score:3, Informative)

        by Night Goat (18437)
        What you want to do is put "X-No-Archive: yes" into your headers of the posts you make to newsgroups. This will also prevent Google Groups from archiving your posts.
  • so what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by acvh (120205) <geek AT mscigars DOT com> on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:35PM (#6746784) Homepage
    Don't tell me that you post on Usenet and expect those posts to be "private"! Give me a break. If ANYONE wants to read and study how people interact on this most public of forums, I fail to see how anyone can object.
    • limited insight. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by twitter (104583)
      If ANYONE wants to read and study how people interact on this most public of forums, I fail to see how anyone can object.

      Read, fine. Study, great. Honestly disiminate? Right, you think Microsoft is going to tell you the truth or something? Give me a break.

      Microsoft has a track record of Astroturfing a mile long, extending all the way back to Steve Barkto's spamming of newsgroups. They hire PR firms to pretend to be Apple to M$ switchers, to write letters on their behalf from dead people to politicia

  • by sphealey (2855) * on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:35PM (#6746789)
    Since the early days of netnews (now Usenet) is has been fairly clear that everything you post is being saved, and anything you post if fair game to be responded to, analyzed, and/or held against you at a later date. If this disturbs you, don't post in public forums.

    And if Microsoft weren't doing this, wouldn't there be articles appearing with titles such as "Microsoft ignores valuable customer feedback available free on Internet"? I am no big fan of Redmond, but I think they are almost forced to do something like this to avoid being blindsided.

    sPh

    • "If this disturbs you, don't post in public forums."

      I don't post in public forums. No wait, DOOOH

      Never mind
    • What I found interesting about the whole things wasn't so much the Microsoft aspect, but the potential it has to change the workings of the system it relies on.

      I haven't used newsgroups much, and therefore my opinion may be inaccurate, but it seems like anyone looking an groups using software with theses new search features is going to approach things very differently than people using tradition methods. Essentially, if there if a group can be called a community, it's probably that way because everyone w

  • but.. this reminds me of something the government would do with TIA.. Perhaps there is some sort of connection here?
  • by peterdaly (123554) <petedaly@@@ix...netcom...com> on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:36PM (#6746799)
    So it's like Karma on Slashdot, but on a more stealth level, like Google PageRank.

    It's more like a Google PageRank implemented Newsgroup posters instead of Web Sites, and run by Microsoft instead of Google. Microsoft is just adding true statistics and tracking to the already existant "human credibility" of posters.

    Newgroups posts are public.

    I don't see this as a problem.

    -Pete
  • Hrm, anyone else thinking that this database will be used by Skynet so that it can help identify John Connor's lietenants (and potential replacements) so that the femme-bot can come back to destroy them?
    Of course, looking at my /. posting history, I've nothing to worry about. I think we've all established that /. posters have nothing of value to offer anyone.
  • So? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by echucker (570962) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:36PM (#6746802) Homepage
    Anyone can do this.... But since it's Microsoft, it's doubleplus ungood.
  • Paranoia (Score:5, Funny)

    by heironymouscoward (683461) <heironymouscoward AT yahoo DOT com> on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:36PM (#6746806) Journal
    Is a suitable state of mind when large and powerful groups decide they want to spy on you.

    I'm sure MS already spies on Slashdot and tracks every profile here. I have four, and switch between them carefully, unt sometimez I speek in forin lanjuajes just to confooze them.

    On the other hand, this reminds me strangely of a scene from Dilbert.

    Serf1: Boss, I need to monitor newsnet.
    PHB: why?
    Serf1: So we can track our competitors, manipulate public opinion, and run smear campaigns against political opponents.
    PHB: sounds fine...
    Serf1: It will take nine months, that's ok?
    PHB: yes, get someone to help you if you need it.

    later..

    Serf2: So, did you get it?
    Serf1: Yes, we're now official newsnet spies.
    Serf2: porn on, dude!!! alt.binaries, here I come.
    Serf1: I've asked for some new hard drives too... :)
    • Re:Paranoia (Score:2, Insightful)

      by stratjakt (596332)
      So what differentiates you as a reader from a MSFT employee as a spy? The name on the paycheque?

      Check your head, fella.

      They actually research their customer base. Imagine that.

      If the GNU/Linux community would take note, and start reading what users are saying, perhaps we'd have a usable desktop by now.
      • Moderation (Score:3, Insightful)

        Further, since you have now pissed me off by ignoring my very apt Dilbert reference, and bringing the subject back to Linux vs. Windows instead of the much more valid and interesting discussion of "why MS is interested in newsnet approx. 10 years after it became principally a vehicle for porn", I will remark that your pro-"MSFT" (I assume you own shares?) remark should be moderated down as a troll. The rational moderators in Slashdot still outweight the "MSFT" serfs, I hope.
  • Paranoid? (Score:2, Funny)

    by The Old Burke (679901)
    I guess that a lot of people will get very upset about this, and it surely don't sound good for Microsoft that have choosen to to something like this.

    But remember that MS is arespected company that outside this limited communuty is known as a company that protect the privacy of their customers, and the data they collect about potentiall customers. Whatever you feel about MS, its their *right* to do this. In fact anyone could have done it, its just accidentally happened that it was MS who did it.
    I'm sure

  • Troubling? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 110010001000 (697113) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:37PM (#6746814) Homepage Journal
    How is this "troubling"? They are researching a way to make USENET and such more effective. They aren't interested in the fact that cmdrtaco@slashdot.org posted to alt.sex.unicorns 10 times last month.

    This is good valid research, the type that applied research CS programs should be doing. Thismay actually make a difference in a deployed product.

    I think we should tone done the M$ and SCO crap for a while.
  • Real Information? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LamerX (164968) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:37PM (#6746825) Journal
    Okay, anybody who signs up for a message board with thier real information, or creates a mail account with thier information, or posts to newsgroups with real information is just asking for this sort of thing to happen. I'm pretty tired of going to websites and having to sign up. I NEVER put in any real information, and encourage EVERYBODY to put in fake information. Why do they ask for this information? So that they can do exactly what MS is doing.

    Now don't get me wrong, I don't think that this is some sort of plot of evil. Well it sorta is, but the whole motivation behind any kind of information gathering is money. They want to spend less on advertising by targeting only the people who will show interest in thier products. The more they watch people like this the more money potential they have.

    The best way to keep your privacy from becoming an issue and all of these information databases getting merged on you is to NEVER, EVER give out your real information to ANYBODY, especially on the internet, unless it's a secure SSL transaction, and you really trust the source.
  • by McBride, Darl (699981) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:38PM (#6746833) Homepage Journal
    Here at SCO [sco.com], we've been doing something similar to this for months. We've been tracking user comments on slashdot to compile an extensive list of Linux zealots to go after once our lawsuit against IBM is successful.

    Bide your time well, Linux zealots, for the mighty power of SCO's IP will reign down upon thee!

  • Dupe? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by realSpiderman (672115)
    Microsoft to do for Usenet what it did for Email & The Web [slashdot.org] OK, no way they could have remembered this one, when they don't even remember posts on the main-page. ;-)
  • by stratjakt (596332) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:39PM (#6746850) Journal
    People READ my public POSTINGS?

    I'm JUDGED by what I say in PUBLIC?

    MY GOD!

    The only thing that bothers me is that MSFT pisses away stockholder cash on this, unless they can somehow turn it into legitimate market research.

    BTW, they read slashdot too. If the editors cared about this sort of "invasion of privacy", they'd remove the AC posting limit.

    And why does a site so rabid over the issue of online anonymity have to refer to anyone who chooses to post as such as a coward?
  • The true application is obvious. They're tracking alt.binaries and other warez newsgroups, tracking users and what they post, with an eye towards eventual law enforcement (remember the Business Software Alliance, owned by MS?).
  • No problem (Score:5, Funny)

    by smatt-man (643849) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:40PM (#6746868)
    I figure we have nothing to worry about. If Microsoft wrote the tracking software, then it probably doesn't work anyway.
  • So? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by KalvinB (205500) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:41PM (#6746882) Homepage
    I often check my logs to see where visitors are comming from and if it's a message board I stop by and read what people are saying to see what motivated them to go to my site.

    Many companies (stars often check out what fans are saying around the net) are probably scoping out message boards/newsgroups to see what people are saying about their products. And plenty of people have opinions about various products but most people are less than stellar when it comes to intelligently expressing why they feel the way they do.

    "It sucks" is not helpful to companies in their quest to improve their products. And people who bitch about everything or praise everything also aren't worth paying attention to.

    It's called market research. This is a non story. "I want to have an opinion about X but X better not read it!" is just dense.

    Ben
  • They have a problem called Netscan with does this from an informational mapping perspective:

    http://netscan.research.microsoft.com/ [microsoft.com]

  • Post to alt.os.linux
    Me: Yea, I have (an older...) MDK installed on one of my servers here. I have Gentoo on a couple others. I use Gentoo at home (and I have MDK 9.1 on a machie for testing). Just use urpmi to get the updates you need and you'll be good.

    M$-News-Bot: Cross reference posting IP with known MSCP lists. User is an MSCP.
    Send out the software police. Posting IP is talking about Linux.
  • Give it a break (Score:5, Informative)

    by The Bungi (221687) <thebungi@gmail.com> on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:44PM (#6746919) Homepage
    • This monitoring goes on exclusively in the msnews.microsoft.com domain, plus a few others that are also run by the company. While NetScan is sometimes pointed to MS-oriented news servers (news.devx.com is an example), Microsoft is not "monitoring USENET".
    • Marc Smith is a very sharp guy who has done a lot of interesting work with the social dynamics of online communities. Goggle him for more info. And if you have questions about what NetScan does, give it a whirl [microsoft.com] and form your own conclusions.
    • At the moment, NetScan is used by the MVP program [microsoft.com] to follow members' posting history. The MVP program is not exclusive to NNTP, however.
    • I can't see how this goes into the "YRO" section - if Microsoft is monitoring the news servers it operates and that bothers you - don't post there. This is hardly the land of the Microsoft advocate or even user for that matter. This is like reporting that I'm painting my bedroom bright red - WTF do the neighbors care about that?
    Yet another hysterical ad revenue generating headline, brought to you by the Slashdot "editors".
    • Re:Give it a break (Score:3, Informative)

      by Fencepost (107992) *
      That means that they're only monitoring newsgroups that reach msnews.microsoft.com. That's like saying Google Groups only monitors newsgroups that reach it - it's true, but so what?

      Any globally-available group is or can be available on their servers with no significant difficulty. I poked around and came up with local groups (e.g. chi.general) and non-MS language groups (e.g. comp.lang.python). Perhaps you're confusing the msnews.microsoft.com domain with the microsoft.public hierarchy?

  • by N8F8 (4562) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:44PM (#6746925)
    Just repackage it as the dissident locating and tracking service. Heck, I bet the US gov't already bought an Enterprise license.
  • If MS were to give me a nice, shiny "valuable contributor" certificate I could hang on my wall, I'd probably be okay with this. Officially being told "I am valuable" by billy G would be the highlight of my life. That is, as long as they don't give one to those assholes who always post spam on usenet. Knowing MS, that's probably what they mean by "contribute."
  • by gorbachev (512743) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:47PM (#6746970) Homepage
    What's so alarming about this?

    It's no different than any social study on the general public. It's done in academia all the time.

    If someone thinks their Usenet posts are so damn sensitive or private they don't want people to look at or study them later, don't post to Usenet or use an anonymizing service.
  • by blcamp (211756) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:47PM (#6746978) Homepage
    This is old news. With .Net, Windows Update and Lord Knows what else, it should be no suprise to anyone that Redmond is poring over any and all soft-content being created using any of their apps.

    Not only is it a near limitless cache of information, there is near limitless ways to use it. They can market new crap, er, products to us; determine how to repackage and (attempt to) re-sell information to anyone who may buy.

    You post info to misc.transport.road, for example, on the lastest news regarding the Maumee River crossing project (the massive I-280 bridges in Toledo, Ohio), you'll get spammed, er notified about Micro$oft Streets and Trips 2004.

    Post a concert review on another newsgroup, and you might get something from Ticketmaster. And guess who gets a cut: some software company in Redmond.

    Not to be paranoid or a conspiracy theorist, but it should be evident to anyone with even a couple of firing synapses that Microsoft is no longer a software business. Software is only a stepping stone to a larger avenue of revenue: human thought, human knowledge, human behavior, and the exploitation thereof in any way whatsoever - so long as it provides a revenue stream.
  • by Asprin (545477) <gsarnold@y a h o o .com> on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:47PM (#6746980) Homepage Journal

    We sociologists don't like to use the term "community," particularly--we like to refer to them as social cyberspaces.

    Ugh! Where do I start?!

    SocioloGY might be trying to answer interesting questions, but mefears that socioloGISTS might be the wrong people for the job.

  • by galego (110613) <jsnsotheracctNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:49PM (#6747010)
    The University of Maryland HCIL [umd.edu] had a conference earlier this year. I was in the same hand-held session this guy was in. I checked his picture, and that's him for sure.

    The next day he was showing Ben Schneiderman [umd.edu] some of this stuff at the open house. A bunch of us looked on as they chatted, planned visits, golf outings and talked about how it all worked.

    Depending on the queries he gave it, this one program would chew through data from usenet. and give back all kinds of stats and then draw relationships It even did graphical representaitons of users' actvity. Density of posts in a single thread versus starting new threads, frequency of posts, replies vs. new messages etc would be denoted by distance from the main timeline, darkness and width of the circel and so forth. You would look at a wide but faint circle and say (and I may be off in how the key worked, but ...) "This guy sticks to the topic over a long period of time" or you could denote the flame warrior or the vagrant by their graphical representation and so forth. The way the data was processed was really cool and how quickly you could start to decipher the keys was really interesting.

    The Big brother implications ... well that's a whole 'nother thing there too isn't it?

  • by randomErr (172078) <ervin DOT kosch AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:50PM (#6747022) Homepage Journal
    At least they're not big brother.

    Rate me higher Microsoft. Hire me Microsoft. I want to have your children Microsoft. I know your watching this site Microsoft. I'm identity # 285-75-4210.
  • by Effugas (2378) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:52PM (#6747043) Homepage
    One of the first tasks of any individual joining a group is to determine the pecking order within which authority is distributed. This is a critical task that humans have been doing since before they were human.

    What's being talked about here is reverse engineering trust heirarchies, algorithmically, simply from a discussion corpus extracted from Usenet.

    This is very, very cool stuff. It is a hard application of a soft science, and if its results match empirical data, it represents a greater level of understanding about the human mind.

    This is something to celebrate and take interest in, not malign simply because it's Microsoft that's behind it.

    I do remind the security paranoid that reputation management remains one of the few characteristics obsessively protected in otherwise anonymous systems.

    Yours Truly,

    Dan Kaminsky
    DoxPara Research
    http://www.doxpara.com
  • Bleh. (Score:5, Funny)

    by SuiteSisterMary (123932) <slebrun&gmail,com> on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @02:55PM (#6747063) Journal

    An interesting article from the School of Common Sense shows that your public actions are being monitored by everybody who sees them!

    "The privacy implications of this are staggering," says some guy who gets inflammed by things. "People could figure out all sorts of patterns about your life. Why, if they observe you going to the pet store, they could actually figure out that you likely own a pet! Next thing you know, you'll be getting subscription offers for pet magazines. Nobody needs that."

    People who fear this massive intrusion of privacy have several options open to them. First, the use of full face masks, and body costumes, can confuse potential observers. Make sure to change masks and costumes frequently. Visiting stores and locations that you wouldn't normally visit can 'sour' their tracking data as well.

    "If you have children, drop them off at a school that they don't attend," says Imflammatory Boy, "and tell them to walk to their real school."

  • by maxwells_deamon (221474) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @03:04PM (#6747166) Homepage
    This is not some conspiracy thing where Microsoft is trying to collect secret data on individuals.

    The article is about this guy at MS and what he does there. The are several projects he is involved with.

    One is the Netscan tool. This is available for use by the general public. You can run it yourself and seen what it can and can not do. [microsoft.com]
    http://netscan.research.microsoft.com/

    I beleive that it was orginally created in part to help identify helpful people in the user community so they could be rewarded (becoming and MVP for instance) They do not discriminate against you based on what platform you use as a desk top or what OS your website is hosted on. Just if you regularly post stuff and reply to posts.

    I do not know much about the other tool except what is in the article.

    The other tool is very much unrelated to newsgroups and like the cue cat on steriods execept I do not belive data goes to the parent company.
  • by Hayzeus (596826) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @03:08PM (#6747211) Homepage
    From the article:

    What we've done is highlight the 40 threads that got the most number of messages in this period--day, week, month, year. And we'll say, Here are 40 really big threads.

    Well, at least he's found a meal ticket. I mean almost anybody's who's spent ANY time on USENET knows that the size of a thread is a poor predictor of useful or interesting content. While there is a chance that the thread is interesting, there is also a VERY good chance that it's a mishmash of flames and massivily offtopic digressions. This is clearly demonstrated by the netscan application referenced in the article.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @03:27PM (#6747429)
    We were having a lot of trouble tuning our psychoanalysis routine. There was this one user on slashdot that kept crashing the system. We finally decided that the user is one of the worst recorded cases of multiple personality disorder. Some of the personalities were found to be incredibly psychotic and anti-social, others brilliant. Basically all over the map. Finally we just had to filter out all messages from Mr. Coward.

  • by Aqua OS X (458522) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @03:56PM (#6747793)
    Now, I'm a geek with a Soc degree...
    And I think Microsoft is simply wasting their time studying news groups and BBs. For some stupid reason government and corporations only hire sociologist for BS two-bit studies with fairly insignificant or irrelevant findings.

    What is Microsoft going to get out of this data? A new chat or email client? New MSN features? A fancy new search engine? New task bar icons with even more dialog bubbles that alert me every 5 minutes? Whoopdy freak'n do da! :/

    (pssss... Microsoft... that should be the least of your concerns right now)

    MS should hire more then one sociologist and have them analyze their product distribution / development model and Windows usability. Microsoft currently produces a fairly annoying operating system in an extremely inefficient way. Moreover, Microsoft's current tactics are the cause of a lot of lost money for that company.

    Why not get some sociologists to look at Microsoft's business model, Microsoft's products, and the development of Microsoft's products? Microsoft could become a socially responsible company (and no, donating to a charity does not make up for all of the BS Microsoft does); Microsoft could have happy customers (like "Apple" happy... not "my computer hasn't crashed this month" happy); Microsoft's software could have fewer problems; and Microsoft could stop wasting money on multimillion dollar law suits that they bring upon themselves.

    Business degrees, consultants, lawyers, and a few UI psychologists are not enough. They're another dynamic out there that MS is missing.

    But hey, if MS wants to keep wasting money and keep pissing people off... by all means, they should keep doing what they're doing. It's only going get worse.
  • by Iphtashu Fitz (263795) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @04:10PM (#6747965)
    At least on their own newsgroups (the microsoft.* hierarchy) they've been doing this for years. Back over 6 years ago I was a Windows programmer (don't worry, a long time ago I saw the light and now am a linux programer!) Anyway... Because of the work I was doing at the time with Windows and was also answering a lot of questions in the microsoft.* newsgroups I attracted MS's attention. They made me an MVP (Most Valuable Professional) [microsoft.com] back around '95.

    One of the things MVP's were told was that MS tracked our posting habits in their newsgroups. They used our e-mail addresses for this. The tracking was purportedly to help determine if our MVP status would be retained from year to year. (it's an annual award) Since they acknowledged way back when that they were tracking users on their own newsgroups it really doesn't surprise me all that much that they'd expand it to cover more groups.

    Actually, given that Google has an archive [google.com] of many of the newsgroups it really wouldn't be all that difficult for pretty much anybody do track individual posting habits, etc. Just run some searches for the e-mail address of the user in question.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @04:23PM (#6748109)
    For a few months I did this for MS Games. I searched newsgroups and fan message boards to see what players were talking about. If everyone was pissed off and wanted a new patch, that's what I reported. If people were excited about a certain feature, I reported that, too. If you ever flamed MS for something you didn't like, I might have sent it to them.

    One choice quote from memory... "WE NEED A PATCH. GOD IF YOU SHOVED SOME COAL UP THERE ASSES YOUD GET A DIAMOND!!!LOL"

    It paid $10/hr, and I needed the money.
  • by flacco (324089) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @04:32PM (#6748201)
    oh great, post a harmless article about how microsoft is watching your every move on-line and the paranoids will come out of the woodwork claiming microsoft is watching your every move on-line.

    HEY, WAIT A MINUTE!

  • by bmajik (96670) <matt@mattevans.org> on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @05:07PM (#6748536) Homepage Journal
    are seeing this for what it is: "No big deal"

    This is NOT big brother. This is about building valuable meta information on top of usenet. Why ? Because one of the things MS heard long ago is that people liked linux because they could go to a newsgroup and get help with it, often from the people that wrote the component in question ? What did MS do ? They responded - MS employees now monitor the microsoft.public news groups. We respond to posts, try and solve problems for people, answer questions, debug code, etc etc. I myself can be found occasionally posting in the Visual Basic newsgruops (where we have lots and lots of non-full-time or beginning programmers that really need just a little bit of help to get them going).

    The people that _write_ the VB compiler are now monitoring VB newsgroups to try and help connect with real customers and to really understand how people use and dislike MS products.

    Managing and making sense out of the whole mess that is usenet is a nightmare, and MS Research is doing some good work in this area. MS has some internal software that treats usenet posts as "issues" and determines if they've been resolved or not, if they need followup, etc etc. One interesting thing we've found is taht there are many issues resolved by "the community", i.e. non-MS employees that are subject matter experts. I don't know the details on this but I think we make an effort to track who is and isn't a great contributor and maybe they get some sort of compensation or recognition or something.. like i said i don't know the details of that at all..

    In any case, the point of this usenet data mining is to try and analyze the incredibly huge sea of usenet. We want to figure out what kinds of problems people have, what people are causing noise, what people are really helping other, etc etc. There is no nefarious invasion of privacy here, the only thing that is analyzable is what people explicitly post to a public forum...

    Look at my userid - i was a slashdot reader long before i work where i currently do. Back then, the MS bashing and second guessing definitely took place, and i even participated. I'm still a slashdot reader but I do get awfully tired of the sheer volume and irrationality of negative-MS stuff that happens here.

    When I started at MS, I found out awfully fast that many of my arguments against MS were speculative, but mostly it was me being factually wrong and talking out of my ass. I remember in my original interviews i was trying to lecture an NT developer about how putting GDI in kernel for NT4 was stupid because it would lead to crashes. How pompous of me! It was something I read on some stupid website or industry rag. Later I found out (from reading Inside W2k -- excellent book) that it was irrelevant because if the session manager sees that the GDI user-land process exits /crashes for some reason, it reboots the box anyhow, i.e. a problem with GDI reboots the box either way.

    So after 8+ years of hating MS and talking out of my ass, followed by 3+ years of working at MS and realizing how much i was talking out of my ass, I'm doing two things:

    1) talking out of my ass less
    2) telling others that are clearly talking out of their ass that they are doing so, so that they can
    2a) stop spreading misinformation
    2b) have their eyes opened that nobody is impressed by their incorrect speculations and their emotional campaigns of disinformation

    I know im not preaching to a sympathetic audience here, but honestly, the speculation, questions, etc people have about MS could be answered truthfully and honestly if some of you would bother to ask, or do some research. But unfortuneately i know all to well (because i used to do it) that its easier, and certainly more fun, to beleive everything you _want_ to beleive about MS that bolsters your own predetermined mindset. If, for example, you find yourself referring to an article that The Register wrote, please stop and ask yourself what the hell the regis
    • by Alien Being (18488) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @06:14PM (#6749112)
      "but honestly, the speculation, questions, etc people have about MS could be answered truthfully and honestly if some of you would bother to ask,"

      Is it possible to unbundle the browser from Win95?
      MS: No you honor. It is impossible.

      Microsoft will tell whatever lies are necessary to continue their unfair trade practices. Stop trying to justify their behavior and just admit that you have in fact sold out.

      I've kept an open mind about MS's products for the nearly 20 years I've been exposed to them. My opinions are not predetermined, but if it quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck.
  • by Trailer Trash (60756) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @05:17PM (#6748621) Homepage
    They've been doing it for years. If this one email will just get around to 25,000 people, Bill Gates will send everybody a $1000 check. It shouldn't be surprising that they're monitoring Usenet, too, probably just to send checks to people there.
  • by 3seas (184403) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @08:06PM (#6750056) Journal
    "It seems that once Microsoft starts tracking the behavior of individuals, you're asking for trouble. What about privacy?
    I think it's a very important thing. And we have build NetScan to protect what I think are legitimate claims for privacy. Like a Net spider, NetScan takes publicly accessible documents off the Internet, and it respects metadata that says "Leave me alone!" There is the robots.txt file that says, "You can look at this but not that." With Usenet there is one that says "Leave my messages alone," and we respect that. We will not store your messages if you put that in them."

    Given how much MS lies.....

    if you do these things mentioned above you will become special attention to MS ........

    For certainly MS inhouse will be interested in what others don't want them to be interested in....
  • by Krellan (107440) <krellan@NoSpaM.krellan.com> on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @09:34PM (#6750581) Homepage Journal

    This has been mentioned before [slashdot.org], here on Slashdot, but not in this negative context. Previously, people just thought of Microsoft's newsgroup tracking as a curiosity, and not something with an ulterior motive.

    USENET is losing its relevance these days, unfortunately, due to spammers and the difficulty of creating new groups to keep up with current trends. Most message-based chat nowadays takes place on innumerable topic-specific websites running "bulletin board" software such as YaBBSE [yabbse.org]. It might be a little too late to do anything to USENET now, either good or bad....

  • by WoTG (610710) on Wednesday August 20, 2003 @11:51PM (#6751374) Homepage Journal
    similar to what others have pointed out, this isn't necesarily for nefarious purposes. It's rather similar to what search engines, well, at least Google, do to try and figure out what the most valuable websites. Google puts a strong weighting on incoming links from other reputable sources. Instead, for newsgroups, the only constants between posts are email addresses. Makes sense to me. I've often wished that Google Groups' results were as revolutionary as Google's were when it first arrived.
  • Beauty, eh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DancingSword (412552) on Thursday August 21, 2003 @04:27AM (#6752596) Homepage Journal

    The beauty of this is:
    each individual has to choose between Free Speech or Privacy [privacyinternational.org].

    Anyone who chooses to exercise Free Speech becomes 0wned by whomever wants to profile&dossier 'em, and anyone who chooses to exercise Privacy has the right to not say anything.

    I wonder, in this Majority Rule ( and all others must Obey & Conform & Belong ) world, whether "free speech" will win, or whether "privacy" will win...

    ... keeping-in-mind that no individual has as much capability to make a meaning known ( or to do-so as a means of suppressing competing meaning ) as does a marketing-department, and
    .. also that Total Information Awareness programs, whether called STASI or Satan, or any other label
    ( humour is: "satan" means Accuser, and TIA + Patriot-II [public-i.org] exists so that authority can accuse without having to have correct information, and without you having the right to see the basis for your accusation, and without you having the right to defend yourself in level-playing-field and without anyone, anywhere having the right to know you've been accused/convicted/disappeared.. read the link. )
    .. depends entirely on no-one having valid privacy...

    Perfectly Brilliant.

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