You Phone Home, I Hang Up

Tonight, I removed Adobe’s Lightroom 1.3 from my computer. Maybe that makes me part of the so-called “tinfoil” hat crowd. I’m deeply concerned about Adobe collecting information, in apparently disguised fashion, from users of its products.

I don’t buy Adobe’s excuses. Creative Suite 3 isn’t freeware. People buying the software can pay as much as $1,800 (street price), depending on CS3 version. Adobe feels free to mine information from these customers, without even asking their permission? Shame on Adobe. I would remove Acrobat and Flash, if so many Websites didn’t use the software. I’m mad

UneasySilence turned up the Adobe shenanigans:

When you launch a CS3 application the application pings out to what looks like an IP address—and internal IP address:…the last “numbers” of the IP address (2O7) look funny. Also, IP address don’t end in any .com/net/org suffix. Turns out that is owned by Omniture, a huge behavioral analytics firm.

John Gruber, of Daring Fireball fame, described Adobe’s action as a “disgrace”. In a follow-up post he explained: “What I’m calling a disgrace is that the server that’s getting pinged is named in such a way that it is clearly an attempt to masquerade as a local area network IP address”. He also observed that Apple’s iTunes mini-store uses the same Omniture address.

I don’t use iTunes, either. In October, I dumped all my DRM content—and iTunes with it. In September, I sold my iPhone, after Apple issued an update that “bricked”, or made useless, unlocked devices. Apple crossed an ownership line with the update. People paid for those phones. As much as I liked iPhone, the Nokia N95 is good enough.

My reaction to both companies, Adobe and Apple, might seem extreme. But I have choice of products and exercise that choice. For Adobe, my objection is bigger because of the stealth Omniture monitoring. Adobe’s priority isn’t me, the customer. Just the opposite: The company’s priorities are amoral to me the customer. Public companies like Adobe and Apple share common chief priority: Returning value back to shareholders, by any means. The first business and moral obligation is making money for shareholders. Customer considerations are lower than shareholders’.

Also, the Google era has come, and with it lots less privacy. Companies want to extract as much money as possible from their products or services, making behavioral monitoring fair game. If a company offers a free product or service, customers should expect some trade-off of personal information as the cost. But Cs3 doesn’t qualify as free.

At least Microsoft asks about monitoring through its Customer Experience program; I opt out. Adobe gives no choice.  The official response is ridiculous. Last week, Adobe’s John Nack shifted the blame back to Adobe customers, starting with UneasySilence:

Every year around this time, the online community latches onto some story…and goes nuts with speculation…now is the perfect time for people to throw around whatever wild assertions they’d like, given that so many people are out of the office and can’t respond.

While John Nack later says that Adobe “needs to make sure it’s not abusing users’ trust”, he diminishes any potential pronlems with the Omniture monitoring. That’s the response I would expect from a public company which primary priority is the shareholder. End-of-year holidays is a lame excuse for not addressing what potentially is serious privacy violation.

Photo Credit: Dave Nudson