'We will not use information to identify you'; But could they?

Summary:Companies often say they "will not" use information collected through software or services to identify users. But they do not say they "cannot".

The language that is chosen by software companies, online and offline alike often astounds me. You would be surprised how often technology companies actually make firm commitments to their customers.

"Microsoft will..." and "Google can..." all the way to, "Research in Motion cannot...", as the script often seems to be with the BlackBerry manufacturer.

One of the key talents a journalist will need is the ability to interpret language to provide a fresh perspective and a new understanding. In my own head, it is perpetual and all but impossible to turn off. Perhaps that's the journalist talking; perhaps it's the academic. Either of which, I am all but permanently looking for things that may or may not be there.

Let me pick one example I recently found -- not to pick out Microsoft per se, but considering how they repeatedly responded to the recent series on the Patriot Act, shows quite precisely how manipulative one particular company can be when it comes to the use of language.

Can you see it? "Information received will not be used to personally identify you." What concerns me is that the text does not read "cannot be used".

I find it is an interesting use of the world "will". It effectively means that a company has said they can do something, and they may well do it, either now or in the future. If you "will" do something, it sets an indefinite timeframe to complete it by. We "will" kick that nasty oxygen habit we all have one day, and no doubt many of us "will" get married. It doesn't identify when.

In the case of the SmartScreen filter, it suggests to me that Microsoft may be able to personally identify both you and your browsing habits. It probably doesn't, but it's the theoretical potential that rings alarm bells in my head.

Suffice to say, I keep the SmartScreen filter off. It's just one of many preventative measures to ensure that my privacy is as secure as it can be.

Then again, for many of us, we will not know our privacy is in jeopardy until it is too late.

Topics: Microsoft

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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