Microsoft Collects Petabytes of (Personal?) Data

In a New York Times article about the massive de-bugging effort Microsoft is undertaking to get their new Vista operating system released on time, mention is made that 450,000 users are testing the software, and that their computers are sending crash data back to Microsoft. So far, Microsoft has collected 5.5 petabytes of information — the equivalent of the storage capacity of 690,000 home PC’s.

Repeat: Microsoft has 5.5 petabytes of information from 450,000 users’ computers. That’s 5.5 quadrillion bytes. A bunch.
Rod Van Meter picked up on this right away:

Microsoft now has the memory contents of millions of people’s PCs. I wonder what’s in there? Bank account info? IM from a congressman? Crypto keys? It seems likely that Intel and Oracle have extensive beta test programs; perhaps part or all of a chip design or database product strategy?

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist, or even loathe Bill Gates, to think that any one organization collecting the memory contents of millions of computers is a questionable idea. It has to be a tempting target for hackers, ambitious Justice Department folks, or even curious Microsoft employees.

I wonder what kind of informed consent users had when agreeing to test the beta system, and potentially share personal information with Mr. Gates & Co.

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