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Phoenix BIOS phone-home questions addressed

Technical details to follow, we're told

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It's taken time and a number of e-mail exchanges, but we have got a preliminary response from Phoenix on the questions we raised in a recent story regarding the new PhoenixNet-enabled BIOS, which automatically connects users to Phoenix servers.

Anecdotal reports had suggested that the Phoenix installation CD enables the Net service without warning the user that they're about to do so. We gathered that the only way to disable it before it made its first connection was in CMOS setup.

Following a good deal of back and forth during which Phoenix implied that we were unusually difficult to reach, company PR rep Katie Thomas suggested that we e-mail our questions so they could be reviewed carefully and answered fully.

This we did; and reproduce the text below in full:

1. Does the PhoenixNet installation software alert the user to the Net feature and give them a chance to decline to install it? (We understand that the user can disable the service in CMOS setup; but if an option is not present during installation, then the connection, when available, will likely be made without the user's knowledge since only a fraction of users will go into setup before using their machine.)

2. Are there any versions of PhoenixNet-enabled BIOS which do not offer the option to disable it in CMOS setup? If not, is Phoenix prepared to guarantee that there won't be any in future?

3. Certain PhoenixNet installed files, PTLSEQ.DAT; PTLSEQ.MET; and PTLSEQ.RCL, appear to contain some configuration and hardware information related to the individual PC its running on. What data about the PC is sent to Phoenix during the Net connection? Is it recorded? If so, what is it used for and by whom can it be accessed?

4. What data about the PC *can be* sent to the mobo manufacturer during the Net connection? In other words, how flexible is this feature? Could a manufacturer track the aggregate use of their mobos with this feature? Could they track individual use?

5. Is it possible to identify a particular mobo with any feature currently included in, or planned for, the Net service?

6. We assume that the purpose of PhoenixNet is to attract ad revenues for Phoenix and possibly mobo manufacturers by driving consumers toward commercial products and services which you or the manufacturers have been paid to promote. Correct us if we're wrong.

We sent the memo on Monday night, and what with the bank holiday on Wednesday, the reciprocal momentum sort of dissipated. So we alerted Phoenix on Thursday afternoon that we were planning a story update on Friday, in which we hoped to report their answers to our questions rather than the fact that we'd received none.

That got us a reply from Katie Thomas in a matter of hours, the text of which we reproduce in full below:

We have received your questions and will provide detailed answers to each specific question next week.

In the meantime, let us assure you and your readers that Phoenix Technologies has always understood and continues to appreciate the issue of privacy. For this reason, the PhoenixNet utility has never "uploaded" any information relative to hardware configuration or personal data and there is no way to identify any individual user. The PhoenixNet utility was designed from the beginning with these concerns in mind and is initiated strictly on an "opt-in" basis. The utility does only these things:

1) Provides links (icons on the desktop) to sites that may be of interest to the user according to the information they provided during the "opt-in" screen;
2) Sets a new homepage and search engine in Internet Explorer which may be of local interest to the user (again according to the info provided by the end-user);
3) Installs links to selected websites in the IE Favorites folder, and;
4) Checks, via an internet connection, whether an updated version of itself is available. If so, it downloads the updated version.

Again, NO INFORMATION RELATIVE TO THE USER OR HIS/HER HARDWARE IS UPLOADED.

To remove the PhoenixNet features:
1) Icons can simply be dragged to the recycle bin;
2) Home page and search defaults can be reset using the standard browser functions, and;
3) Favorite items can be deleted from the Favorites folder.

To disable and remove the PhoenixNet utility, simply "right click" the application in the system tray and delete it. (In some versions, the user may also have to select the Add/Remove Programs function in Control Panel; scroll to the "PhoenixNet" application, select it, then click the "Remove" button.)

We hope this addresses the immediate concerns.

All right then. Since we've been offered detailed and specific answers to our inquiry next week, we thought we'd ask our beloved readers if there are any questions they'd like us to add in the mean time. Use the e-mail link above if you wish. ®

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