Real Jukebox invades privacy, watches users

RealNetworks executives are admitting that the company's Real Jukebox software is secretly monitoring its users' listening habits and reporting the results back to RealNetworks over the Internet. But the software maker says that it is doing so to customize services for its users, not to violate their privacy. Security experts that were tipped off to this activity, however, strongly disagree.

Describing the collection of user listening habits as an obvious violation of privacy, security experts condemned RealNetworks for glossing over the issue. Though the company insists that RealNetworks does not store or distribute the information it is gathering, security experts say that the action is still problematic because it is happening secretly, without any indication to the user. Over 13 million people have downloaded Real Jukebox and provided RealNetworks with their names and email addresses.

According to Richard Smith, who discovered the surreptitious activity, Real Jukebox collects and sends the following information over the Internet to RealNetworks: The number of music files on the user's hard drive, the type of music files used (Real Audio or MP3), the recording quality of the music, the user's preferred music genre as defined in Real Jukebox, and the type of portable MP3 player, if any, owned by the user. This information is then tagged with a number that uniquely identifies each user

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