Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/11/15/lexmark_spyware/
Lexmark denies spyware allegations
No black helicopters here, says printer outfit
Lexmark has firmly denied installing spyware on its customers' computers, after allegations appeared on a Usenet newsgroup that its printers install software that sends personal information back to the company.
The poster, calling himself Commander, writes on the comp.periphs.printers Usenet newsgroup, that while he was installing a new Lexmark printer, he noticed that a program called Lx_CATS had been added to the program files directory. He determined that it was programmed to collect data on his printing and scanning habits and send it to a domain owned by Lexmark at 30 day intervals. He added: "Furthermore, it is embedded into the system registry, so average users would likely never know it was there and active."
He states that Lexmark did not ask his permission to install the program, or to gather this information at any time during the installation. He adds that when he called Lexmark to complain, the company originally denied all knowledge of the program, only to cough to it when confronted with his evidence.
Lexmark UK has issued a statement in response to the allegations: "Lexmark Connect is a voluntary program that is fully disclosed to all users during the installation process for a new printer. During this process, a registration screen will appear that will allow the user to choose to participate, or not participate in this program. A user MUST review this page and click "continue", or the registration process will not install the program or the printer."
Fair enough, but it looks on the following screen grab like both the registration and Lexmark Connect options are "opt-out", so you have to physically deselect the latter to avoid being registered in the programmme. We asked Lexmark to confirm but this the company had not been able to do so at time of publication.
The company also denies collecting personal information. It says Lexmark Connect merely tracks printing habits, such as the number of pages printed, amount of ink used, and how frequently product features are used so that it can "understand our customers printing habits and needs better".
However, there is some debate on the newsgroup over the purity of Lexmark's intentions. Commander argues that while Lexmark maintains no personal information is gathered, "the program transmits the printer serial number, and when I registered the warranty with Lexmark, they recorded my personal information along with the serial number. How hard is it to match the two?"
Another poster responds: "It's obvious Lexmark has punctured your tinfoil hat without your knowledge". Indeed. Black helicopters on standby. ®