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The cranky user: Ease of use or marketing driven sabotage
By Peter Seebach - 2004-04-23 Page:  1 2 3

Opt-out is a cop-out

Of course, you can conveniently opt-out. As always, opt-out is a cop-out. It's like the police telling you that they can't arrest someone for assaulting you until you tell them to stop hitting you. But that's not the scariest part.

What's really scary is how the opt-out feature works. When you click on a link in the advertisement, your router stops redirecting you to the ad. And how does it do this? The server sends a packet that changes that particular configuration option.

In a Usenet post, a representative of Company X explained how to change the configuration option locally, in case your firewall blocked the special message that changes the configuration setting. By default, the machine at the Web site for Company X can change the configuration of your router if it knows where your router is.

That's right. Something can be sent to your router from outside of your network which will change its configuration. How many other settings can be changed remotely? Can you disable this? These are hard, and as of now, unanswered questions.

Responding to complaints

So how do reps for Company X answer this criticism? The initial response is probably not what you might have hoped for. In the same Usenet post in which the remote configuration "feature" was disclosed, a Company X employee provided a few details.

One detail was that information gathered when you registered went to a third party, rather than to Company X. A second item was that the design goal was to provide ease-of-use for product registration.

So, the users of your router experience one unexpected redirect every eight hours. Until you tell your router to stop doing it. And even then, if you're on a secure network, you may have to manually go in and reconfigure the router. Instructions for this were posted to Usenet, but apparently nowhere else.

This post was deleted from the archives about two days after it was first posted to Usenet. It was replaced by a shorter message explaining that Company X agreed an issue existed and that a firmware update fixing this would be made available shortly.

This idea was approved once. The fact that someone in control thought this was a good idea once means that it might happen again.

Without knowing why and how this happened (or the intentions behind this kind of reasoning), I'm not sure what to think about statements that the issue is resolved. Do the people at Company X see the same issue that I do? Are software actions that go beyond the advertised intent of software merely an ease-of-use issue?

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First published by IBM developerWorks

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