Microsoft will modify future releases of Windows 98 to allow greater user control over a feature that could be used to collect private information on users of the popular operating system, the company said today in a letter to customers.
The software giant will offer a free utility to current users of Windows 98 who want to delete the feature, called Registration Wizard, which sends to Microsoft a globally unique number that is tied to a given user's hardware configuration when the user registers. The objective of having the hardware information on file is to shorten customer service call times, Microsoft said.
However, the company learned on Friday that "the Registration Wizard might inadvertently be sending a specific hardware identifier to Microsoft during user registration, regardless of whether the user chose to send his or her hardware diagnostic information," Yusuf Mehdi, director of Windows marketing said in a letter today posted on the Microsoft Web site.
"This hardware ID is only used by the software system and is not used for customer record-keeping purposes," he wrote. "Nonetheless, there are hypothetical scenarios under which this number could be used to learn something about the user's system without his or her knowledge."
Microsoft, meanwhile, will sift through its own database and delete information that had been "inadvertently gathered" through the Windows 98 numbers, Mehdi wrote. The company also will modify the feature in future Windows 98 versions so that hardware ID information is not sent to Microsoft unless a users checks the option to provide it.
The number was first discovered by a programmer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who contacted Microsoft last week, according to published reports.
Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington, can be reached at +1-425-882-8080 or at http://www.microsoft.com/.