Prodigy Hard Drive Scans

Timothy C. May tcmay at
Thu Feb 3 20:39:44 PST 1994

> I heard from a friend that Prodigy was scanning user's hard drives. 
> Basically, when you logged on Prodigy made a complete directory of your
> hard drive and uploaded it.  Prodigy was using this to find out what
> applications you used so they could direct the appropriate advertising
> towards you.  Apparently, they're suffering several lawsuits now because
> of it.
> My friend heard this on the trailing end of a radio talk show.  If it was
> really happening, it sounds horrible.  Could Secure Drive be set up to
> stop this kind of attack?
> Can anyone tell me if this is more than a rumour?  If it is more than a
> rumour, would you be able to point me towards some information about this?

Just a rumor, disposed of several years ago. A hot topic of debate
around 1990.

This rumor arose because Prodigy set aside a block of user disk space
for its own files. Sometimes this block had random stuff in it (recall
that "erasing" a file doesn't actually overwrite the disk, it just
removes pointers to the stuff being erased and allows other stuff to
later be overwritten over it). Prodigy used part (a small part, given
1200- and 2400-baud modems in use then) of this block to send back to
the main computers, so in principle it could see miscellaneous scraps
of erased data.

But this was accidental, was a tiny fraction of the disk, was not used
or even looked at by Prodigy, and would have absolutely no value in
determining applications used. (Think about what a samll random chunk
of "erased" disk space would really mean in terms of telling outsiders
what applications you use!)

Ironically, an old college buddy of mine is now in charge of e-mail
for Prodigy, in White Plains, New York. He visited me last summer and
I showed him a _real_ computer service (Netcom) and we had a few good
chortles about this Prodigy Conspiracy.

--Tim May

Timothy C. May         | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital money,  
tcmay at       | anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero
408-688-5409           | knowledge, reputations, information markets, 
W.A.S.T.E.: Aptos, CA  | black markets, collapse of governments.
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