Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Cisco Backpedals From Creepy Privacy Position on Linksys Upgrade

In what appears to me to be the first time that anyone anywhere has ever given a single thought to a firmware upgrade to their home routers, Cisco Systems, the parent of the consumer router brand Linksys, is backing away from some creepy terms-of-service language that accompanied a recent upgrade to some of its routers.

It all started last week, when owners of a handful of higher-end Linksys routers — they had elected to receive automated upgrades to their routers — were prompted to log in to a new service called Cisco Connect Cloud.

It’s basically a Web-based tool for managing your local network. Traditionally, routers are managed either through an application running locally on a machine connected to the network — as with Apple’s Airport line of routers — or via a browser interface. Cisco had been talking about shifting to the new service for some time, but its appearance caught some customers off guard.

For many Linksys customers, that was irritating enough. But what generated the real outrage was language in the terms-of-service agreement (emphasis mine):

When you use the Service, we may keep track of certain information related to your use of the Service, including but not limited to the status and health of your network and networked products; which apps relating to the Service you are using; which features you are using within the Service infrastructure; network traffic (e.g., megabytes per hour); Internet history; how frequently you encounter errors on the Service system and other related information (“Other Information”). We use this Other Information to help us quickly and efficiently respond to inquiries and requests, and to enhance or administer our overall Service for our customers.

Creepy, right? While most people tended to ignore the TOS statements, some smarter people chose to read them, and quickly generated some consumer outrage and negative media coverage. This prompted Cisco to revise the language. (Latest version here.) It also issued instructions for how to roll the router back to its previous state, and to disable the automated updates.

Cisco has since called the whole kerfuffle “a mistake.”

You’d think Cisco would have thought this sort of thing through a little better. But then, it has a long history of misfires and mysterious arbitrary decisions where its consumer products are concerned.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus