CueCat profiling potential described

All the gruesome technical details

Freebie bar-code scanner CueCat, which enables users to swipe bar codes in print media and have their browser immediately directed to related information on the Web, uses software which transmits all the information that maker Digital:Convergence would need to record every bar code that every user scans, and which could be used to profile users, an advisory by the Privacy Foundation explains.

Another feature enables users so inclined to connect their PC sound card to their TV audio output. The CueCat software then listens for signals encoded within the audio of television programmes and advertisements that convey information comparable to a barcode.

A computer so connected will "quietly report to [Digital:Convergence] whenever it hears an audio cue. Since no user intervention is required, such a computer could effectively become an in-house television tracking device," the advisory notes.

The company has stated that it has no intention of profiling users, but if it should ever change its mind, no modifications to the device or its software would be necessary for them to succeed, the study warns.

Tracking is possible because a unique ID number assigned to each user upon registering their CueCat is sent to Digital:Convergence along with a bar code number each time a bar code is scanned.

Once the CueCat is registered and activated, an entry is made in the user's Windows registry which creates a unique identity.

Digital:Convergence states that it "will never release your personal data to any third party to solicit you unless you have expressly elected to permit it."

Of course, if the company were suddenly to betray users by flipping on its privacy policy, as Amazon recently did to customers foolish enough to believe their promises, it could easily associate users with their product interests, thereby creating a gold mine of quite valuable profiles for marketers.

The study, chock full of detail, can be found here. ®

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