Up until yesterday, Microsoft was giving away free copies of Vista Ultimate and Office 2007. If you're like me, your first thought was, "Ha, they couldn't even give it away." What happened was that the company instituted a Windows Feedback Program, in which users who signed up would receive the software free of charge, "while supplies last" (um, it's software, is there a limited supply?), in exchange for agreeing to allow Microsoft to install a program designed to gather unspecified usage information from the user's machine. Some pieces, such as this one from Beta News, report that the program was ended before Dec. 31, as planned, because the demand was so high that Microsoft "ran out of software." Most coverage, though, as here at Gizmodo, poked fun at the idea that users would willingly give up this information -- whatever it might end up being -- so easily, and to Microsoft, to boot.
But give it away they did, apparently. What makes the idea of all these folks signing their privacy away for this program stand out even more is that Microsoft is saying it has received enough applications to end the program early during the same week that Facebook, the hot start-up in which Microsoft recently invested $240 million, took its lashings for its biggest privacy misstep to date, involving the Beacon feature.
Is this just the most recent version of the old privacy traded for a chocolate bar story? Does it make such a difference that Microsoft is saying upfront that it'll be gathering information in return for "free stuff," even if it doesn't spell out what it will collect and what will be done with the data? Or have a large number of consumers given up, if you will, and begun to think that their privacy is in shambles already, so they might as well take free software, or free VoIP calling for a few more ads, or whatever they can get?