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Microsoft Tracking Behavior of Newsgroup Posters

timothy posted more than 10 years ago | from the target-market dept.

Privacy 543

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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543 comments

Fucking Microsoft (-1, Troll)

Trigun (685027) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746704)

See topic!

Yeah, bastards! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746869)

Those fucking assholes think public information is public. What will they think of next? The information I release publicly is MY PRIVATE PUBLIC INFORMATION, Misters Gates and Smith, thank you very much. God DAMN what a bunch of assholes. I'll bet they'll fucking read this post at Slashdot, too. Asshole! Get out of my public life!

News flash: Windows XP allows users to FDISK and format existing Linux installations and install Windows XP on that hard drive, RENDERING THE LINUX INSTALL UNUSABLE! AMAZING! BASTARDS! HOW COULD THEY!

to the mods (1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746708)

Leave my messages alone

Re:to the mods (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746765)

Obviously you didn't read the f..ine article, or you would have gotten the joke.

Re:to the mods (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746820)

You should know that Slashdot is held captive to a host of Bastard Moderators From Hell that never read the article and who haven't graduated highschool (either because they're too young or because their too stupid. Usually both).

WILD TURKEY SI ON TEH SHELF!!~!1`~ (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746709)

I can hear the guy in the cublicle next to me having sex with himself. It's making it difficult to work.

Re:WILD TURKEY SI ON TEH SHELF!!~!1`~ (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746923)

Tell him if he doesn't stop, you'll fling poop over the top of the cube wall.

When they... (1)

mczeke (641029) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746717)

When they outlaw newsgroups only outlaws will post in newsgroups... errr..uh, yeah.

Good (4, Funny)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746718)

Hopefully the general contempt for proprietary, inferior solutions will drive them towards some better stuff.

Re:Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746920)

Me : < Goes back to texting "It's Turkey Time" to people's cellphones >

ON NO! (-1, Troll)

tssiap_wmuc (699273) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746719)

everyones watching! *looks around suspicously* drat! now i can't open discuss how i want to blow up the white house! BOO FREAKIN HOO

Huh? (4, Interesting)

BoomerSooner (308737) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746726)

" 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).

Re:Huh? (1)

ihummel (154369) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746773)

My suggestion to people is to sign up for an email service that lets them produce aliases for their email account. Either that or get your own domain and your own email server and go that way. In both cases you can create a throwaway alias for posting on Usenet or /. that can be easily ditched and replaced when the spam gets to be too much or when you think you've aired that email address for too long.

Good thing that guy isn't a programmer... (-1, Flamebait)

coryboehne (244614) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746879)

Usenet alone--which is a backwater in that most people don't know where it is and how to find it--on Usenet alone there were 13.1 million unique identities who used Usenet in 2002, and by that we mean that they were a contributor and wrote at least one message. [...] But conservatively you could estimate that there are 10 readers for every writer, so that makes it 130 million Usenet users per year.

Hmm, let's do a quick bit of math...

What he was trying to do was TotalUsers = Posters + Posters * 10

but instead he did this ... TotalUsers = Posters * 10..

So the real number should have been 144.1 million not 130 millon... I bet he feels dumb when he reads this post... :)

This sounds familiar! (4, Funny)

Pvt_Waldo (459439) | more than 10 years ago | (#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!

Re:This sounds familiar! (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746830)

What do you think? Would it work?

I think the obvious answer to that would be a resounding no :)

Re:This sounds familiar! (1)

IFF123 (679162) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746860)

just as long as they don't revoke moderator access to people posting "unwanted" comments.

What's wrong with this? (5, Insightful)

Eric Ass Raymond (662593) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746738)

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.

Re:What's wrong with this? (2)

Trigun (685027) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746803)

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)

I read the article! (5, Interesting)

teamhasnoi (554944) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746742)

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.

Re:I read the article! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746800)

Who do think is behind this? They *are* the 'churchy' types.

Imagine (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746743)

What if website operators tracked people's posting habits and created, oh I don't know, a real time blacklist [slashdot.org] of some sort? It's a good thing slashdot is on hand to notify us so we can prevent our Orwellian nightmares from coming true.

Tracking Slashdot too (-1, Offtopic)

BWJones (18351) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746745)

Well, given the very pro Microsoft stances that many folks have here in response to anything critical of Microsoft, I have wondered if they are paying attention to Slashdot as well. Especially considering that many of the rabidly pro-MS posts are posted as AC.

Re: Tracking Slashdot too (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746818)


> Well, given the very pro Microsoft stances that many folks have here in response to anything critical of Microsoft, I have wondered if they are paying attention to Slashdot as well. Especially considering that many of the rabidly pro-MS posts are posted as AC.

Given MS's longstanding PR problems, if I were running the company and had what appears to be the typical ethics among CEOs these days, I'd be paying a few hundred people to astroturf Slashdot as full-time jobs.

No, that doesn't mean that MS is actually doing it.

Re: Tracking Slashdot too (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746841)

Given MS's longstanding PR problems, if I were running the company and had what appears to be the typical ethics among CEOs these days, I'd be paying a few hundred people to astroturf Slashdot as full-time jobs.


Yeah... Because people actually turn to /. for advice on purchasing decisions. That's about as likely as people turning to /. for life and death advice on hig powered wiring. Er, wait.

Re: Tracking Slashdot too (1)

Martin Marvinski (581860) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746936)

Yeah... Because people actually turn to /. for advice on purchasing decisions. That's about as likely as people turning to /. for life and death advice on hig powered wiring. Er, wait.

That's what ask slashdot is for!

Re:Tracking Slashdot too (2, Informative)

Chess_the_cat (653159) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746957)

Especially considering that many of the rabidly pro-MS posts are posted as AC

Are you kidding me? Any pro-MS post is an instant karma killer. That accounts for the AC posts. I'll probably get modded down just because I didn't spell it M$.

/. logic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746746)

Story a: MS can't code anything original amd they mess up everything they try to do so badly that we will always be able to hax0r it.

Story b: MS is making uberl33t people control devices that I can't do anything about except put on my tinfoil hat and shiver in a corner.

Re:/. logic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746963)

You're not giving the slashdotters enough credit. They go the extra step and hook up a nine volt battery to their DIY Tinfoiol hat.

Fragmented Identities (0)

4of12 (97621) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746747)


may ultimately have to fragment their identities

Been there, done that.

On comp.os.*.advocacy I'm {5-11}of12.

Re: Fragmented Identities (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746861)


> On comp.os.*.advocacy I'm {5-11}of12.

Does the Twelve series have bosoms like the Nine series?

I hope this never happens on Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746750)

Although sometimes I do get the odd feeling like other people may be reading my posts. I guess I'm just being paranoid.

Re:I hope this never happens on Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746795)

Don't worry - no one reads your posts on Slashdot.

Here's the text - the site is slowing... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746752)

Microsoft's in-house sociologist
By Paul Festa
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
August 19, 2003, 4:00 AM PT

newsmakers Ever get the feeling your Usenet newsgroup list is being watched? By Microsoft?

If so, consider yourself right. Thanks to the expertise of sociologist Marc Smith, Microsoft is keeping a close eye on newsgroups and other public e-mail lists, which it has identified as the Internet's undervalued "knowledge management application."

In Microsoft's research and development labs, Smith has spent the past several years slicing and dicing data about messages and message authors in an ambitious effort to help people make sense of the newsgroup manifold--the hordes of know-it-alls, flame warriors, spammers and neophytes who, by Smith's estimate, last year numbered more than 100 million in the Usenet network of e-mail threads, or newsgroups.

Smith's idea is that you can tell a lot about the quality of data by tracking its newsgroup contributors' social habits--a notion that holds promise for sorting through millions of messages, and peril for a online world increasingly skittish about invasions of privacy.

Following the launch of Microsoft's NetScan application for analyzing newsgroups and the people who post to them, Smith spoke to CNET News.com about NetScan, about Microsoft's interest in e-mail lists and about an application under development that would link objects in the real world to an array of online information.

How did a guy like you get to work for a company like Microsoft?
I'm a sodomite. I've now been at Microsoft Research about four-and-a-half years. Microsoft has a few social and cognitive psychologists, but I'm the only sodomite.
Which means what, exactly, in the context of technology employment?
A sodomite studies the attributes of relationships and the group of relationships that add up to a collective or a community. As a technology group, our mandate is to both explore and to build tools to study the phenomenon that we could call online community. We sodomites don't like to use the term "community," particularly--we like to refer to them as social cyberspaces.

What's wrong with "community"? The word seems to come up all the time when we talk about the Internet.
When we say "community," perhaps what we really are looking at is a special case of a broader phenomenon that sociologists call collective action, when a group of people do something together. And this turns out to be the No. 1 thing people do with their computers: It's to send each other e-mail. The No. 2 thing is to send groups of people e-mail--to join the list of people who like to knit, or who like Microsoft products.
So why exactly does Microsoft need a resident sociologist?
Microsoft has a big investment in online communities, and has not had until recently many tools to enhance that investment. What Microsoft wants around communities is what every enterprise does, which is a peer-support, knowledge-management application. And that means that if you go into Usenet, you'll find 3,000 Microsoft public newsgroups, with 1.5 million people posting 10 million messages. And that's 2002--and it's going to more than double this year, because it more than doubled in '01. We don't see traffic flagging at all.

My impression was that the use of e-mail lists was on the decline.
To the contrary! It's on the rise. Usenet alone--which is a backwater in that most people don't know where it is and how to find it--on Usenet alone there were 13.1 million unique identities who used Usenet in 2002, and by that we mean that they were a contributor and wrote at least one message. How many people read the message? We have no idea. That number is invisible and is fragmented over a half-million servers that are not sharing their data. But conservatively you could estimate that there are 10 readers for every writer, so that makes it 130 million Usenet users per year. And that's a small number compared to majordomo lists, or things like Yahoo Groups, and the number of people who have a bulletin board on things like UltimateBBS.

What are you doing with these lists, from a sociological standpoint?
What we are about is the thread. It turns out that the core sociological data type of the Internet is not IP (Internet Protocol) numbers, or any of that stuff, it's threaded conversations. And it's amazing how little
It turns out that two-thirds of all threads in Usenet, in 2002, had a whopping two messages.
investment has been put into adding value to the core data structure of the Internet, which is the conversational thread. I can illustrate that by suggesting that when you sit in front of your e-mail client, simply try to sort your messages by thread size.

And by size of the thread you mean...?
I mean the number of messages, the number of generations of messages, the breadth of the conversation. If eight people reply to a message, it has a breadth of eight. If 12 reply, it's 12. And it turns out that the frequency distribution of thread properties is very illuminating.

It turns out that two-thirds of all threads in Usenet, in 2002, had a whopping two messages. And two-thirds of all authors are the people who write a message, post once one day, and never again.

Is that indicative of a spam problem?
No, those aren't spammers, they are the people who post once, get their answer and go away happy. They post a message that says they can't print, then they get their answer. What newsgroups are is a form of knowledge management application. What they are about is leveraging the collective knowledge of large numbers of people.

So how is it useful to know that people are getting their printing questions answered? What can you do with that information?
What you can do is say, "Let's look at how many times each of those unique IDs posted. Twenty-four million times? That's your spammer." Humans have a limited capacity to type and send and think up messages, while software is virtually free from those constraints. What we do is say, "By looking at these properties, the structure of authors, threads and newsgroups, we can determine a lot of things that are good predictors of value."

Here's an example: Let's say you have a newsgroup with 22,000 messages posted there per month. You have a problem! What should you read? We have some suggestions. In an existing browser, you can see the messages sorted by date, sorted by size or sorted alphabetically, and this is not very useful. What we want to say is, "There are different vectors through this content space, different ways of slicing into the data, the conversation, that are more likely to bring valuable information."

For instance, what are people talking about? 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." How do you know those are good? We're not sure they were good, but these were the things that got people really excited and engaged in this newsgroup. That's one vector.

But what about the guy who gets his printer fixed in two messages?
And you can legitimately argue that. "What about small threads of high value? How can you help me find them?" The answer is that we are, by leveraging latent structural data that is itself a product of collective behavior. You have lots of individuals working on their own. If there were only one person writing Web pages, Google wouldn't work. But Google Groups doesn't do what we do to Usenet. We're doing something useful to Usenet. We're not yet a search engine, we're a research project. And we will eventually be doing things related to the full text of the message.

Let's look at the individual who posts to a list. Does he show the pattern of participation over time that is an indicator of a valuable contributor? The question you should raise is, "What do you mean by value?" One man's flame warrior is another man's poet. It's not for us to tell you. But we do give you tools to sort patterns of difference.

Let me tell you how to find someone who gives really good technical support answers using our author tracker. It's a way to slice a vector into the content space that measures how dedicated are the people to this newsgroup. Basically, it asks, "Are you a regular?"

And what will that indicate?
Regulars are value contributors. But you could say, "You are sorting people by--and we do--how many days they come back." For example, you go into some of our tech support newsgroups, and you'll find that there are
I'm a social scientist--I don't know the difference between good and bad, only the difference between difference.
people who have contributed every day in the month. OK, those are regulars. But how do you know they have value? It's not just the number of days you come back. There are three other metrics, which tend to be ratios. One is the ratio of replies: How many times did you reply to someone else, or start a thread? Spammers may show up every day, but they don't reply. With a very low reply-to-post ratio, I would say that that is a person who starts a lot of conversations but never replies to anyone else, and it's probably a spammer. Showing up every day is not enough--you have to respond to other people. It's also thread-to-post. How many threads did you touch, how many messages did you write? If you wrote 10 times, all into one thread, that's a low ratio. You have a high conversational concentration.

Is that good or bad?
I'm a social scientist--I don't know the difference between good and bad, only the difference between difference. Do I like flame warriors? Or don't I? A high reply-to-post indicates a flame warrior, because they tell you you're an idiot and they put all their messages into a few threads--so they also have a low thread-to-post ratio.

If you want to find the answer person, flip that ratio around. They differ from the flame warrior in the following way: Both show up every day, and both reply. The answer person answers a post once or twice, then moves on. We've seen people post 500 messages in one week in one thread. If you have that much time on your hands--it's not to say that it's a good thing or a bad thing, but a different thing. We give you the opportunity to say, "I just came here because I can't print." We will guide you to the very real group of people who are dedicated, for whatever reason, to not just computer technology, but answering questions about knitting, horseback riding, dogs--you name it. And the way to do that is to start looking at the social accounting metadata about authors.

So could all of this ultimately add up to a better search engine?
If things go well, we'll have a better search engine. This remains early, initial research, but our results look promising. Reranking results based on social histories does do a better job, and I do believe we will deliver interfaces that will find people who are debators, fine, but also those who are answer people...It turns out that people have a lot to give each other. There's a lot of knowledge to share, and 2 percent of every population is motivated to be a knowledge sharer.

Most of us have to rely on signs or symbols that suggest a person is reliable. With doctors you have their diplomas, the way the office looks, and most important, who referred you--these are all indicators that we rely on. We are trying to create analogous tools for online environments where that data is latent, is not manifest in the interfaces visibly.

When you talk about a reputation system, I'm reminded of the eBay system.
We're similar but different--eBay is an explicit feedback system, and we are an implicit feedback system. With eBay, buyers rate sellers, and sellers rate buyers, after they conduct a transaction. It's what people say about you. But there are real problems with this--most of all inflation, the "Beverly Hills-adjacent" problem. If you read the L.A. real estate section, everything is "Beverly Hills-adjacent." So there is this tendency to inflate. There have been empirical studies of reputation ratings at eBay that suggest that just going by reputation ratings at eBay is not an indication that you're not going to get a fraudulent transaction.

Tell me about the AURA (Advanced User Resource Annotation) project.
AURA is about extending NetScan: "What if you could use NetScan with a pocket computer and attach threads to things?" We use the Toshiba e740 and a Compact Flash bar-code reader, run AURA software, and can walk up to any bar-coded object, any ISBN-coded object, scan it, and the device brings back information about that object...We imagine being able to walk up and down the aisle of a grocery store and have a handheld computer rate everything with a green light, a red light, a skull and crossbones.

In Hong Kong, during the height of the SARS outbreak, there was a system that could tell you which buildings had had confirmed SARS cases. Now that's a reputation system.

It's easier to do this with products than with, say, people.
People are one thing, but objects--all the books on my shelves, all the food in my kitchen, the artworks in the hallway--we at Microsoft have bar-coded every one of them. AURA is going to become a navigation tool. You can print a bar code for a penny and slap them on things. Which we do--and then Facilities comes along and scrapes them off.

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.

Couldn't a spammer just put that in his or her messages, so you wouldn't be able to identify them as a spammer?
That's a possibility, and that's something we would have to respect. But the system still would not fail, because a person with no reputation is a person who has a reputation. "Let me tell you about the people who the system has shown to have value." We're about letting the cream float the top and not about letting the other stuff sink.

How can you reassure someone who might be concerned that it's not such a good idea for computers to be keeping track of our belongings and our whereabouts?
I'm not sure, but we're leaking data all over the place now. And on the one hand, that has utility for other people. On the other, there's a privacy risk. In some ways, consider us a form of performance art. Would you like to see you? This is potent. We accept that and hope we can offer people good prophylactics against loss of privacy. And that may mean keeping multiple IDs and e-mail addresses. Ultimately we may have to fragment our identities.

Re:Here's the text - the site is slowing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746902)

He's the ONLY one ? Does MS discriminate against sodomites ?

Re:Here's the text - the site is slowing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746953)

Apparently.

In-house sociologist (2, Insightful)

gregarican (694358) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746757)

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.

A Scanner Darkly (1)

TwistedGreen (80055) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746764)

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"?

Re:A Scanner Darkly (2, Funny)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746863)

Did this line remind anyone else of Philip K. Dick's thoroughly perplexing novel "A Scanner Darkly"?

No.

this just in...... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746766)

making posts on the internet allows others to read what you wrote, and draw conclusions about a person based on multiple posts by that person.

For example, Fucky The Troll seems to someone to avoid based on what he posts, while Bruce Perens seems to be someone to pay attention to.

He has clue (4, Insightful)

Wizard of OS (111213) | more than 10 years ago | (#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 (2, Insightful)

josh crawley (537561) | more than 10 years ago | (#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?

Re:Who cares (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746874)

M$ scum...

so what? (5, Insightful)

acvh (120205) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746784)

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.

Since the early days of netnews... (5, Insightful)

sphealey (2855) | more than 10 years ago | (#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

Don't we already do that? (1)

MMaestro (585010) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746790)

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."
I don't know about other people but my friends and I who are active on IRC servers, newsletters and/or online groups already do this. Some of them have more than 4 daily checked e-mail address, hide their identities with different aliases for each account and sometimes just fill in fake information when registering. (I'm fairly sure my friend doesn't live in Nowheresville, NO 01134)

They're probably monitoring /. as well! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746792)

So in case Billy ever wants to send me some dough, I'm gonna get on their good side!

Microsoft rocks!
Visual Basic is the best language EVER!
I love Steve Ballmer's pep rally's!
Windows is the best operating system EVER!
Bill Gates is a cool guy!

morons tracking behaviours of va lairIE/robbIE (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746793)

like the whoreabull excessive abuse of va lairIE's pateNTdead PostBlock(tm) devise to fend off criticism of their own payper liesense scammage, as well as that of their corepirate nazi 'sponsors'. tell 'em robbIE. pretendint that you reside somewhere above the fray/fraud is pathetic.

what might happen to US if unprecedented evile/the felonious georgewellian southern baptist freemason fuddite rain of error, fails to be intervened on.

you already know that too. stop pretending. it doesn't help/makes things worse.

they could burn up the the main processor. that would be the rapidly heating planet/population, in case you're still pretending not to notice.

of course, having to badtoll va lairIE's whoreabully infactdead, pateNTdead PostBlock(tm) devise, robbIE's ego, the walking dead, etc..., doesn't slow us down a bit.

that's right. those foulcurrs best get ready to see the light. the WANing daze of the phonIE greed/fear/ego based, thieving/murdering payper liesense hostage taking stock markup FraUD georgewellian fuddite execrable are #ed. talk about a wormIE cesspool of deception? eradicating yOUR domestic corepirate nazi terrorist/gangsters will be the new national pastime.

communications will improve, using whatever power sources are available.

you gnu/software folks are to be commended. we'd be nearly doomed by now (instead, we're opening yet another isp service) without y'all. the check's in the mail again.

meanwhile... for those yet to see the light.

don't come crying to us when there's only won channel/os left.

nothing has changed since the last phonIE ?pr? ?firm? generated 'news' brIEf. lots of good folks/innocents are being killed/mutilated daily by the walking dead. if anything the situations are continuing to deteriorate. you already know that.

the posterboys for grand larcenIE/deception would include any & all of the walking dead who peddle phonIE stock markup payper to millions of hardworking conservative folks, & then, after stealing/spending/disappearing the real dough, pretend that nothing ever happened. sound familiar robbIE? these fauxking corepirate nazi larcens, want us to pretend along with them, whilst they continue to squander yOUR "investmeNTs", on their soul DOWt craving for excess/ego gratification. yuk

no matter their ceaseless efforts to block the truth from you, the tasks (planet/population rescue) will be completed.

the lights are coming up now.

you can pretend all you want. our advise is to be as far away from the walking dead contingent as possible, when the big flash occurs. you wouldn't want to get any of that evile on you.

as to the free unlimited energy plan, as the lights come up, more&more folks will stop being misled into sucking up more&more of the infant killing barrolls of crudeness, & learn that it's more than ok to use newclear power generated by natural (hydro, solar, etc...) methods. of course more information about not wasting anything/behaving less frivolously is bound to show up, here&there.

cyphering how many babies it costs for a barroll of crudeness, we've decided to cut back, a lot, on wasteful things like giving monIE to felons, to help them destroy the planet/population.

no matter. the #1 task is planet/population rescue. the lights are coming up. we're in crisis mode. you can help.

the unlimited power (such as has never been seen before) is freely available to all, with the possible exception of the aforementioned walking dead.

consult with/trust in yOUR creator. more breathing. vote with yOUR wallet. seek others of non-aggressive intentions/behaviours. that's the spirit, moving you.

pay no heed/monIE to the greed/fear based walking dead.

each harmed innocent carries with it a bad toll. it will be repaid by you/us. the Godless felons will not be available to make reparations.

pay attention. that's definitely affordable, plus, collectively, you might develop skills which could prevent you from being misled any further by phonIE ?pr? ?firm? generated misinformation.

good work so far. there's still much to be done. see you there. tell 'em robbIE.

as has been noted before, lookout bullow.

Call me captain conspirator... (2, Interesting)

NivenHuH (579871) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746798)

but.. this reminds me of something the government would do with TIA.. Perhaps there is some sort of connection here?

Slashdot Karma or Google PageRank (5, Insightful)

peterdaly (123554) | more than 10 years ago | (#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

Somewhere, in the future (1)

Rinikusu (28164) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746801)

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.

Paranoia (5, Funny)

heironymouscoward (683461) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746806)

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 (2, Insightful)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746901)

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.

Paranoid? (2, Funny)

The Old Burke (679901) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746807)

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 that the collection of this data will benefit the coputer community as well as it will benefit MS. People shuld learn to trust Microsoft just as most people trust their computer systems.

Troubling? (5, Interesting)

110010001000 (697113) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746814)

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.

Re:Troubling? (1)

redtail1 (603986) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746977)

Isn't this guy studying general patterns more than the behavior habits of paranoid Slashdot users?

Real Information? (4, Insightful)

LamerX (164968) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746825)

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.

Re:Real Information? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746892)

It would be interesting to see demographic breakdowns from places like hotmail -- how many people live in 90210 for example ?

What zip codes do *you* use when you fill out forms ?

Sounds scary! (1)

supermojoman (699985) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746831)

...tracking and rating contributors' social habits and determining "people who the system has shown to have value." What about the people who don't have value?! Are people who haven't ever posted to a newsgroup without value?! "You have no value to the collective. You will not be assimilated. You will be melted down and used for gear oil." I'm going to go join some newsgroups....

Post Frequently == Spammer? (1)

tepp (131345) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746832)

One of the more upsetting things in the article was the assumption that someone who posts a great deal is a spammer.

I'm on several yahoo e-mail lists where that's exactly the opposite - the people who post the most are the ones who are actively doing research into the field, reporting their findings, discussing it with other enthusiasts... the spammers are the ones who post a single "Russian Girls Waiting For You" message which is ignored.

By the definition of this article, I'm a 12th century women's clothing spammer... because I send about 4-5 messages per day on the subject.

SCO IP Infringer List (5, Funny)

McBride, Darl (699981) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746833)

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!

huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746838)

Just how is this new or surprising?

Multiple addresses wont work (1, Interesting)

TerryAtWork (598364) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746839)

Bayesian analysis can match writers to messages regardless of the email address.

Re:Multiple addresses wont work (0, Offtopic)

Mononoke (88668) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746971)

Bayesian analysis can match writers to messages regardless of the email address.
LOL!!! U R so RITE!

ME 2!!!!!

(I wonder how many AOL users there really are)

What!?!?!? WHAT?!?! (3, Insightful)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746850)

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?

don't fall off your rocker yet (1)

iamweezman (648494) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746851)

This article isn't about spyware that microsoft is using. It's about how they hired a sociologist to help them improve their online influence by studying the "communities" in newsgroups and email lists. It's really nothing more. I'm sure that any company with a presence online would love to have the money to study the exact same thing. I credit microsoft with researching the communities that we love. Information is bliss...

Fucking MS Leeches (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746859)

I REQd that XP corp ISO TWO WEEKS AGO!

All my anti X-Box posts (1)

Bander (2001) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746864)

After all my X-Box bashing in alt.games.video.sony-playstation2, I'm betting that "the system" will determine I am "without value". When Microsoft controls everything, I suspect I will be free()'ed at the first opportunity.

It was nice knowing you all...

-- Bander

More MS lies (1)

sakusha (441986) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746867)

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 (5, Funny)

smatt-man (643849) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746868)

I figure we have nothing to worry about. If Microsoft wrote the tracking software, then it probably doesn't work anyway.

Surprised it's taken so long (1)

lrucker (621551) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746871)

I tried to talk my mom into analyzing newsgroups while she was working on an anthropology degree - don't remember all the parallels, but there were a lot: shunning = killfiling, and so on.

A day in the life of msn nntp (0, Offtopic)

foofoobarbar (699677) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746873)

AOL-user1: yea, LOL, me t00!

AOL-user3: thatz whut i sedm me too!

M0nkeyMan-mod: hey fellas; what is this "LOL" you are always talking about? is it a outlook virus? you should know, you may be prosecuted under the patriot act merely for starting a rumor of a virus named "LOL"

AOL-user1: LOL means we "Likes Our Lapdances"

monkeyman: me t00, my wife Billie LOL! we take turns on eachother and LOL!

Being watched? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746881)

"Ever get the feeling your Usenet newsgroup list is being watched? By Microsoft?

In a word: no.

So? (3, Insightful)

KalvinB (205500) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746882)

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

MS monitoring Usenet Is Like ... (1, Funny)

tilleyrw (56427) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746886)

Jack The Ripper being the parole officer for Charles Manson

Enron overseeing the bank account of the Godfather

SCO maintaining the GNU archives

Insert humorous analogy here...

Microsoft responsible for all the Trolls? (1)

2toise (688494) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746887)

Perhaps M$ is behind an evil scheme to FIRST POST, GNAA and GOATSE? Trusted computing would help, but only if it is able to demonstrate there is a big enough problem!

OH NO! NOT THAT! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746888)

Microsoft can see your PUBLIC USENET and email list posts! What a scary thing!

You rights online: So in other words, you rights to say something publicly and not have it read or stored by anyone is being squashed?

Review (1)

xanadu-xtroot.com (450073) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746905)

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.

so what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746906)

man, slashdot really sucks lately.

I read up until I saw the word "Leverage" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746909)

and then my eyes glazed over and I gave up.

I'm sure that alt.drugs posting... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746914)

...on how much Robitussin I had to drink to trip out was well received. Microsoft MVP, here I come!

Give it a break (5, Informative)

The Bungi (221687) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746919)

  • 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".

Chinese Gov't Should Love This (2, Insightful)

N8F8 (4562) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746925)

Just repackage it as the dissident locating and tracking service. Heck, I bet the US gov't already bought an Enterprise license.

RMS says... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746930)

information should be free.

It is, they are using it, so what?

Can I get a "valuable contributor" certificate? (1)

kaltkalt (620110) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746932)

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."

Big brother is watching you (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#6746961)

Now I know it's Microsoft.

funny ways of talking (2, Funny)

zptdooda (28851) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746964)

Why do interviews from Microsoft employees come across so strangely? Like CorporateSpeak or something.

It's like there's a list of terms they must use a lot, like: enhance, investment, and strangely for a person who says they don't like the word, community.

Then there's this one:
This is potent. We accept that and hope we can offer people good prophylactics against loss of privacy.

Did they mean to refer to potency and prophylactics one behind the other? Seems like a Freudian slit. Loss of potency? Personally I wouldn't want to by prophylactics from a company whose name I've heard translates too literally in some languages as "small and soft".

Microsoft - the boogieman (4, Insightful)

gorbachev (512743) | more than 10 years ago | (#6746970)

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.
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