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Microsoft To Add A Black Box To Windows 514

Posted by Zonk
from the we're-going-down dept.
An anonymous reader writes "According to ZDNet, Microsoft plans to add the software equivalent of a 'black box' flight recorder to Windows. According to the article, 'The tool will build on the existing Watson error-reporting tool in Windows but will provide Microsoft with much deeper information, including what programs were running at the time of the error and even the contents of documents that were being created.'" Commentary available via C|Net as well.
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Microsoft To Add A Black Box To Windows

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  • by ackthpt (218170) * on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @01:37PM (#12349752) Homepage Journal
    "Think of it as a flight data recorder, so that any time there's a problem, that 'black box' is there helping us work together and diagnose what's going on," Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates

    Except the blackbox on a jet won't (unless I'm woefully uninformed more than usual) tell what you were doing in your own seat when the plane went down.

    "occupant of 17A was eating peanuts, doing inflight magazine crossword and had dirty underwear"

    "Our stance on this is that the user is in control," Sullivan [Windows lead product manager] said. "In the consumer environment, you will be presented with a dialog that clearly gives you the choice whether to share the information and then also provides exactly what the detail is so you can parse character by character what's being sent."

    Sounds reasonable, so long as it doesn't hide anything from view. Of course, if you have Visual Studio you can hit Debug and lookie yourself, which is usually more helpful than anything I've ever got back from Microsoft.

    The probablem was likely caused by a faulty driver

    And consumers could have a tough time knowing just what information they were sending. Though they'll be able to see the contents of a document, they may not recognize the significance of the technical data--such as register settings--that's being sent.

    Consumers stick with what works. If hitting Don't Send works, they stick with it. If the problem persists then they'll probably send.

    It said, "what we have here is failure to communicate." What's that mean?

  • by toofast (20646) * on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @01:37PM (#12349760) Homepage
    At first I was tempted to do like most: yell out that this was a privacy issue. Microsoft has no right knowing what software I'm using! But there are so many instances where I could claim that my privacy is invaded that I'm afraid I'm becoming more accepting of it.

    The latest of these instances occurred when I fired up Half Life 2 last night. "Logging on to Steam as ...". So Steam/Valve know each time I play half-life. Interesting stats for them.

    Every time I browse a web page, I'm telling everyone I use Firefox/1.0.3 on x64 Linux. Sure, I could hack my user agent string, but really. Most people don't, right? So now the slashdot editors know what I run, what my IP address is, ...

    I only boot to Windows to play games like Half-Life, and it bothers me that Microsoft would know about everything I'm running on that Windows box, but how else are they to fix issues if they don't know what I'm running and what I was doing when it crashed? When do we draw the line between normal computer use and invasion of privacy?

  • Privacy on the job (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bmw (115903) * on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @01:37PM (#12349761)
    The biggest issue I see with this, at least in the short term, is the possible use of this feature in the corporate setting.

    With businesses, however, IT managers typically set the policy. If they wanted total information, they could configure systems so that they'd know not only that a user was running Internet Explorer, for example, but also that he or she was watching a video from ESPN.com. Or, they might find out not only that a worker was running Instant Messenger but also that he or she was talking to a co-worker about getting a new job.

    This is a major invasion of privacy if you ask me. Of course, while at work you are using company resources so they really do get to say how and when they are used but I feel there is an important difference between monitoring your employee's resource usage and actually reading their emails and instant messages. You don't have to totally invade everyone's privacy to enforce your company policy of internet usage.

    But Sullivan pointed out that businesses can already install third-party software to monitor workers' computer usage and some do.

    While the above is most certainly true, having something like this built into Windows by default just makes it that much easier and thus inviting for a company to implement this sort of monitoring. I just can't wait for the day when all employees have a tracking system attached to them at all times and are reprimanded if they spend too much time going to the bathroom or chatting to a coworker. What great fun that is going to be!

    Another issue with this that is mentioned in the article is the fact that while you will be able to look through all the data being reported, most people will not have the knowledge to determine how much of it is sensitive.

    And consumers could have a tough time knowing just what information they were sending. Though they'll be able to see the contents of a document, they may not recognize the significance of the technical data--such as register settings--that's being sent.

    Not everything is totally obvious, such as personal emails or credit card numbers. Not to mention the fact that it will very likely be buried among a lot of other unintelligable data. Also, given the habit of most Windows users of just clicking 'OK' or 'YES' to anything and everything that pops up on their screen, I doubt many people will actually review the information being sent in the report.
  • I don't care... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Admiral Ackbar 8 (848624) on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @01:38PM (#12349775)
    as long as I can shut it off!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @01:38PM (#12349776)
    If you are running some "non-approved" app, or driver, or whatever, MS will simply blame somebody else's code. And now they'll have a "black box" to prove it.

    Nice.
  • by zappepcs (820751) on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @01:41PM (#12349812) Journal
    As soon as you can no longer get support from M$ because you are not using the 'black box' crash creation application, they will start blaming Linux and Apache for the crashes... quickly creating a patch to prevent users from going to sites that are 'bad' for their Internet experience... thus protecting the world from all sorts of evil... spam, spim, worms, joy, information, and other evils like that
  • Spybox? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by janek78 (861508) on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @01:41PM (#12349824) Homepage
    ...including what programs were running at the time of the error and even the contents of documents that were being created

    ...not only that a user was running Internet Explorer, for example, but also that he or she was watching a video from ESPN.com.

    So everytime my windows crashes, the stuff I worked on gets sent to MS. Everytime IE crashes, MS gets to know where I browse. How does this motivate them to make crashes less frequent? I don't like the idea at all. Another reason to leave MS products completely (already switched at home, still have to use them at work).
  • by screwballicus (313964) on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @01:42PM (#12349829)
    That there's nothing compulsory about this, obviously. And furthermore, it appears that the system will be suited to provide for the customer's preservation of personal privacy:

    For consumers, the choice of whether to send the data, and how much information to share, will be up to the individual. Though the details are being finalized, Windows lead product manager Greg Sullivan said users will be prompted with a message indicating the information to be sent and giving them an option to alter it, such as removing the contents of the e-mail they were writing when the machine crashed. Also, such reporting will also be anonymous.

    The only concern, one might suppose, is for people who don't want this information accumulated should their computer later be searched by others (the law? An employer? A relative?). This is perhaps a legitimate concern, but hard to argue for, as a reason to cripple error reporting.
  • by SIGALRM (784769) * on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @01:43PM (#12349844) Journal
    cat /var/log/* | less and you'll find some interesting and even personal stuff. The accumulation of diagnostic data isn't the real concern, it's the transfer to external sources. I question the legality of sending document data if, for example, it contains protected heathcare information (as many of my documents do) it may violate HIPAA.
  • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @01:43PM (#12349850)
    Except the blackbox on a jet won't (unless I'm woefully uninformed more than usual) tell what you were doing in your own seat when the plane went down.

    It does, however, record exactly what the users (the flight crew) was doing at the time of the crash.

  • Strange press... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shrapnull (780217) on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @01:45PM (#12349863)
    I think it's awfully interesting that Microsoft has begun announcing tiny feature announcements one by one in a nice string of succession throughout the month of April. And slashdot's just eating it up! They wouldn't be, say, announcing one feature plan at a time for the next 30 day to steal some of Apple's thunder while rolling out OS X Tiger would they? Not a friendly entity like Microsoft?!?!
  • by slavemowgli (585321) * on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @01:48PM (#12349899) Homepage
    Personally, I'd draw the line at the point where "opt-in" becomes "opt-out". If the customer is being asked whether they want to send this information to M$, and told just what is being transmitted, then I don't see that much of a problem.

    However, it's important that you actually have to acknowledge this - so, for example, the default button (the one that has the focus) should be "No" rather than "Yes", so users actually have to make a conscious decision instead of just saying hitting return because that's what they always do when an error pops up.

    In other words, consent is required, but it also has to be informed consent. Someone who just says "Yes, do this" because they don't understand what's going on and what the implications are does not consent IMO.
  • by l3v1 (787564) on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @01:49PM (#12349915)
    I only boot to Windows to play games like Half-Life, and it bothers me that Microsoft would know about everything I'm running on that Windows box

    Well, there are some of us who run a load lot more than that, and no, not willing to let anyone trustworthy get their hands on anything. And no, I don't consider some MS developer browsing through crash data trustworthy.

    Anyways, I don't care what their boxes' color will be :P if there will be the option to disable the error reporting service, as it is there now. That's all that counts.

  • by file-exists-p (681756) on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @01:49PM (#12349925)

    So they have to invade your privacy because they did not write a robust OS in the first place ? What an argument!

    --
    Go Debian!
  • by nmb3000 (741169) <nmb3000@that-google-mail-site.com> on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @01:49PM (#12349931) Homepage Journal
    The biggest issue I see with this, at least in the short term, is the possible use of this feature in the corporate setting.

    I'm sure this new "black box" will be controllable via Group Policy. The management and IT can decide if they want to use it and if not turn it off for everyone with a fewer than maybe 15-20 mouse clicks.

    I think this is probably a good step forward in trying to diagnose and prevent crashes for home users, as long as they don't start digging too deep. I don't really mind them knowing what processes were running, but sending them more than just a mini memory dump is too much. I'd also want to make sure they don't grab anything from memory that's supposed to be protected like passwords. Really, that's the only place I see issues, for example if I'm running some financing software which crashes. They grab a memory dump of the program which just happens to contain my SSN, birthday, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, etc. There is the possibility this information could be misused by an employee at Microsoft.

    Microsoft's Online Crash Analysis, the current version of this type of thing, has helped me a time or two. I've had Windows shoot a BSOD at me and after submitting the dump to MS, they readily told me which driver was the culprit and saved me perhaps an hour of troubleshooting.
  • by MarkGriz (520778) on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @01:49PM (#12349934)
    "When do we draw the line between normal computer use and invasion of privacy?"

    When information is reported without your consent.
  • by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @01:50PM (#12349947) Homepage Journal
    When do we draw the line between normal computer use and invasion of privacy?
    Well, you have a vendor, a market, and a consumer.
    When the vendor leverages the market information to make the decision for you that you should upgrade, I daresay you may feel invaded, while falling short of concluding whether or not Daddy Knows Best.
    Time will Tell.
  • by maxbang (598632) on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @01:51PM (#12349949) Journal
    How old are you? It's originally from Cool Hand Luke.
  • by abb3w (696381) on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @01:52PM (#12349966) Journal
    A blackbox on a jet is also designed to be able to survive an explosion... and resist tampering. Will the Windows blackbox file be able to say the same?

    Plus, Qui custodet ipsos custodies? Microsoft just created a new target for hackers, both writing to (for hiding their own tracks) and reading from (for extracting information when searching for personal user information.) Not insurmountable problems, but will M$ think to solve them before being bit on the backside?

    One step forward, two steps back...

  • by garcia (6573) * on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @01:53PM (#12349977) Homepage
    This is a major invasion of privacy if you ask me. Of course, while at work you are using company resources so they really do get to say how and when they are used but I feel there is an important difference between monitoring your employee's resource usage and actually reading their emails and instant messages. You don't have to totally invade everyone's privacy to enforce your company policy of internet usage.

    There is to be *NO* expectation of privacy while using computers at work. Don't think for a minute that your company won't pull out those records if necessary.

    In the mean time protect yourself. Run everything over encrypted tunnels, don't use your company's DNS servers, use a browser that allows you to save your cache to a safe location (USB hard drive, /dev/null, whatever), don't use work e-mail for anything other than work, don't use unencrypted webmail, don't assume that they aren't using keylogging, the list goes on...

    Unethical? Yeah. Legal? Definitely. Get over it and protect yourself as best you can. That means don't use your Internet connection at work for anything that would get you fired or could be used against you later.
  • /var/log/messages (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Locarius (798304) on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @01:58PM (#12350031)
    /var/log/messages is good enough for me.
  • by bmw (115903) * on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @02:01PM (#12350070)
    I don't have any expectation of privacy while at work except that which I create for myself. However, don't you think it is a bit unnecessary to actually read people's conversations and emails? Preventing abuse of company resources is one thing but actually reading the content of my emails is another. I could very well be talking about something that is work related but that I do not want certain people to read. Is that really so wrong? There are things you might have to say to another coworker that wouldn't get you fired but might cause trouble amongst other coworkers if they were read by the wrong person. I just think such total monitoring is excessive.
  • Re:So... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @02:04PM (#12350113)
    For consumers, the choice of whether to send the data, and how much information to share, will be up to the individual.

    "Another revolutionary new concept. You can TURN IT OFF!"

    Yes, but in a typical office situation (remember not all businesses have an IT department or "guy") how many users (minimum wage secretaries) will choose not to send the company's private data back to Microsoft? This is one situation where the choice NOT to send the data should be the default.
  • by Mac Degger (576336) on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @02:07PM (#12350153) Journal
    Thing is, I have no issue with this IF it's solley used as agregate data. But as soon as they tie this with my IP-adress, then there is a huge privacy concern.

    But what I don't think is even neccessary is the contents of the document I'm working on: that has no place whatsoever being sent to MS. But, hell, let MS do that: it means instantly that governments and corporations will not adopt that version of windows for reasons of due dilligence and privacy. Hell, as someone posted before, hospitals etc will be legally bound not to use any OS which could potentially send confidential client information in this way.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @02:09PM (#12350173)
    The important question is whether these error reports be available to the companies/individuals who produced the mentioned additional "running" programs. Probably not.

    Maing this data available for non-MS software producers, including OSS, would make debugging the applications easier. You have to remember that no matter how good the OS is, buggy software (including 3rd party and OSS products) will affect the performance of the system.
  • by Proteus (1926) on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @02:12PM (#12350202) Homepage Journal
    And God, I want mail delivery, but giving my address to the post office is just going way over the line!

    Strawman. This isn't about giving my address to someone, this is about potentially telling them every detail of what I sent through the mail, including credit card information, private letters to loved ones, potentially sensitive business documents, etc.

    The concern isn't that a stack trace might be sent to MS -- it's that they want to have a copy of any document open on one's computer at the time. For now, we can turn it off. But, it pays to keep an eye on things to make sure we can always turn it off. After all, how would you like it if it came out that you had a confidential illness because a medical transcriptionist hit 'Send' after Word crashed while mail-merging your test results?

  • by The Angry Mick (632931) on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @02:26PM (#12350346) Homepage
    After all, how would you like it if it came out that you had a confidential illness because a medical transcriptionist hit 'Send' after Word crashed while mail-merging your test results?
    Or worse, having their insurance cancelled after that same document finds its way to their insurance company via a Microsoft "data affiliate" program?

    Granted, this is little more than pure paranoia now, but then again, just look at how badly some folks want to collect such data. If the demand for collection is this high, just how high is the demand for access? How soon before this information becomes a commodity?

  • by lysium (644252) on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @02:50PM (#12350585)
    In the mean time protect yourself. Run everything over encrypted tunnels, don't use your company's DNS servers, use a browser that allows you to save your cache to a safe location (USB hard drive, /dev/null, whatever), don't use work e-mail for anything other than work, don't use unencrypted webmail, don't assume that they aren't using keylogging, the list goes on...

    Staying one step ahead of Big Brother is a poor substitute for privacy rights. What would stop a "black box" recorder from noting the fact that you were circumventing monitoring by the aforementioned methods? You can still get slammed for "unauthorized use of Company equipment" by this even if the content of the website, email, IM, or whatever, is encrypted; you are obviously hiding something from the monitoring systems, so it obviously is not work-related...

    Your suggestions are sensible (I use them), but will only work in unsophisticated environments, and for a limited period of time.

  • Re:I don't care... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nchip (28683) on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @03:19PM (#12350893) Homepage
    Like how microsoft allows to shut off the "DRM songs imported to microsoft media player" settings?

    I used to think so too, until I met a girl who had imported her entire collection copyprotected. re-ripping cd's is not fun.

    You probably can switch it off (or use something less braindamaged to rip cd:s), but average users will never go to the advanced tab to switch copyprotecting off.. And a huge annoyance to notice after getting an iPod.

  • by squiggleslash (241428) * on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @05:00PM (#12351831) Homepage Journal
    I'm sorry, but this is just yet another example of mindless Microsoft bashing. Why would some Microsoft techie care whether you were criticising his boss? And ordinary Microsoft users use their software because it's difficult to switch over to alternatives unless you already know about them, can obtain them, and have no problem with the concept of installing them wiping out what you already have.

    It may be fun in these forums to criticise M$, but the fact is they put together some very capable software that's normally "good enough" for the vast majority of users. And most of us simply will use what we already have rather than upgrade if Microsoft decides to abuse their position. You can think of it like a couch. If the couch is comfortable, the only way we'd be willing to upgrade it is if we break it completely, or if we move house, and even in the latter case, if the house arrives furnished we still have the option of throwing out their stuff and replacing it with our old furniture, even if the original owners of the new house would prefer we use their old furniture, which chances are we don't want anyway even though it's likely to match the way the house is decorated.

    In other words, we need an incentive to upgrade. And we'll happily plod along with what we have unless there's a very good reason. I know many people with XP who upgraded from the 9X range of operating systems, but a lot of people happy with Windows 2000 who'll not upgrade unless forced to at the barrel of a gun because it's no worse than XP and doesn't have that stupid activation stuff, and XPs lack of support for floppies and its "no more than three applications at once" restriction in some versions.

    Microsoft clearly believes these features will be useful to future users. I think it's reasonable to hold out and see whether they really are abusive before claiming they are. Time will tell.

  • Well...

    Yes, your unix/linux box can be configured to automatically send dump information to a server. This is a useful feature -- but needs to be explicitly enabled.

    If dump information from the Windows box can be sent to a central server that is controllable (eg. not an outside agency), then I am all for this feature -- plus I want to be able to disable this feature.

    Same as being able to forward logging information (again, under installation control on those Unix boxes).

    So, having this feature available is a "good thing" (tm) but I would like to see it configurable to use an internal server. Glad to see Microsoft is offering this as a problem resolution mechanism!

    Ratboy.
  • by SacredNaCl (545593) on Tuesday April 26, 2005 @06:19PM (#12352582) Journal
    Ooooooh...nice shortcut key. I love keyboard commands, cause sifting though the buttons in windoes is so tedious. If the computer management had an embeded shortcut, that'd be even better.

    Knowing these is kind of handy when you are dealing with XP users and you don't know whether they are running in classic or standard mode (or you are running several W2K boxes with a non-active KVM switch and it loses your mouse constantly).
    WindowsKey+R brings up the run dialog, from there you can run anything. Useful ones are: Control.msc (control panel), services.msc(services menu), compmgnt.msc (computer management which is what you wanted).

    Though it doesn't have a keyboard shortcut built in for computer management, what you can do is create your own. Create a shortcut on the desktop to compmgnt.msc, and then assign it a hotkey in the area it says "Shotcut key" press control-alt and another key and it will set that key as your keyboard shortcut. This only works for desktop items as far as I know. I have ones set for Firefox, Thunderbird, Opera, and a few other monitor applications I run frequently. Just right click & go to properties on any shortcut on the desktop and add you own on the shortcut-key line. Saves a few clicks once you have it setup.

    There are a few other hotkeys that are handy though: WindowsKey+M minimizes everything, WindowsKey+Shift+M restores that, WindowsKey+D takes you to the desktop (but doesn't seem to reverse itself with the shift key), WindowsKey+F brings up the find files screen. WindowsKey+E brings up Windows Explorer.

  • by satans_advocate (787715) on Wednesday April 27, 2005 @05:59AM (#12357035)
    Yeah, because if Microsoft actually fixed the problems you wouldn't have anything to whinge about on /., would you ?

    Yeah, because if Microsoft actually fixed the problems, they wouldn't have to send back intrusive, personal and possibly illegal information to Redmond, would they?

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