Is Dell Putting Spyware On Computers?

from the doesn't-seem-so-smart... dept

Dell hasn’t always had a great reputation when it came to spyware. A few years ago, they got into some PR trouble when internal memos came out telling tech support staff that they couldn’t even tell callers about anti-spyware apps, because Dell was afraid such apps might remove some products that Dell was putting on the computers itself. Soon afterwards, though, Dell changed its tune. After realizing that a ton of the calls their support staff was getting related to spyware, Dell suddenly began an education campaign about spyware for its customers. Apparently, some of its executives need the same lesson. Someone on Dave Farber’s Interesting People list is complaining that Dell is about to automatically install what appears to be a piece of “spyware” on many Dell computers. The app in question is a support app, like many that are becoming increasingly popular from various computer makers. In this case, though, the app will continually report back to Dell various information about the computer’s setup. Other support apps do the same thing — but the user has at least some say in whether or not the app gets used. Apparently (and this has not been independently verified, other than the email on the mailing list), the Dell app cannot be stopped using the normal “add/remove” functionality — despite the app itself telling people to remove it that way. Instead, since the app runs on its own separate partition, Dell’s pricey tech support told the guy the only way to remove it is to format that extra partition. That seems a bit extreme (it would seem that a firewall might also block any such transmissions, and there should be plenty of ways to stop the app from starting up in the first place…). Either way, though, it does seem a bit heavy handed for Dell to install an app that is not easily uninstalled by users — especially one that is constantly reporting home with user details. Update: In a further response, it appears that Dell’s tech support staff may have been at fault, and it is entirely possible to remove the software at the app level. However, the confusion over this matter certainly suggests they need to do a better job letting customers know how.

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Comments on “Is Dell Putting Spyware On Computers?”

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eeyore says:

Dell better think twice

If this is true Dell will lose it’s lucrative DoD contracts because the DoD treats spyware the same as computer viruses now and they won’t buy machines that automatically report information to any source if it can’t be disabled. The first thing done with a new XP system is to disable Windows Reporting, and if this can’t be disabled they will look elsewhere for purchasing new computers.

DocMARs says:

Re: Re: Dell better think twice

This is stupid. I am a very satisified Dell customer. I have 3 Dell Desktops in my own bedroom, as well as an 8200 my dad owns in the same house. I am ‘nerd’ enough to seek and destroy whatever it may be that Dell is installing if I purchase any Dell systems in the future. This is plain stupid though. And I thought Dell had a thing for privacy and good support. If they are using it to diagnose problems, then find another way, rather than spying their way through our PCs and tracking our actions. Many business owners and even home PC users have confidential data that is not to be let out to anyone, except for themselves. If Dell is doing this, then there is a privacy violation right in front of our faces.

Anonymous Coward (user link) says:

Dell Is Evil

As a former employee of Dell, I am all too aware of their practices of spying on their customers. On each and every Dell system, there are a number of different programs that run silently in the background, and periodically “phone home”. Supposedly there is no “personal information” transferred, but in my opinion, IP addresses and browser history is pretty personal. My advise is to stay clear of Dell, unless you feel like voiding your warranty by formatting the hard drive and reinstalling a clean copy of Windows. If you were ever to mention to a Dell representative you dont have their version of windows loaded, they have the right to refuse all service to you. Pretty messed up if you ask me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Dell Is Evil

Blowing away Windows and reinstalling doesn’t void a damn thing. I did consumer support for almost a year at a North American call center and none of what yoi said is true. The only time OS support is not available is when a customer installs a version of Windows that did not ship with the system. For example, a customer calls in and wants support on WinXP but the system shipped with Win2k that customer would have to install Win2k for OS support. Pretty damn straight forward if you ask me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Dell Is Evil

If it doesn’t have the dell logo during startup or on the computer properties page, its not supported.

From Dell’s standpoint, only OEM versions of Windows are supported. All Retail versions are “shwung” to MS Support. Trust me on this one, its how I got people off my phone all the time.

Anonymous Coward says:

No Subject Given

Lol. Yes, it’s always the pc manufacturer’s job to teach the user how to use their computers and remedy the problems from any spyware and porn popups that they somehow installed on their computers. And of course, we all know that it’s actually Dell that installs this stuff and it shipped that way. And Dell doesn’t want you to know about any tools to remove it cause it will affect their collecting of browser history and your email and the SS#’s of you and your family. There was never a letter inside Dell telling tech’s not to remove spyware. That letter was fraud and from an anti-spyware company. Read the comments on the story on site like slashdot and see for yourself. Dell has always pointed customers to tools to remove spyware and incurred huge costs in support for having to deal with the influx of calls due do it. So yeah, Dell loves the stuff and every caller who has no clue how to fend it off themselves. So yeah, anyone with a mind capable of understanding a little farther up the business chain would realize why Dell would all of a sudden want to educate the customers to fend for themselves rather than having Dell walk them through it each and every incident. If not, they’d probably think it was some kind of conspiracy. Lol. Then Dell puts on some support sfw installed “on another partition” so that the user can’t even uninstall it. Evil. Or misinformation being passed as fact from a person with no clue. No, that seperate partition holds the diagnostics from the resource cd cause those are always lost and then support has no way to run hardware diagnostics. Lol. Evil. Oh wait, some have yet another hidden partition with an image on it so you can reimage the box in 5 minutes once it’s been messed up too bad. We can’t have anything like that on there so I always delete that first. And what does the support tool do? Well, it checks for security updates from the dell web site. Go to and you can probably find them there yourself. And it allows those same users who can’t fight spyware to reinstall the latest drivers if case thiers have been borked and they don’t know how. You want to get rid of it, you know how to use add/remove programs and there is no evil hidden partition that will keep it on there. Dell is not to be trusted.

Geo says:

It's true

I have this app on my computer and everything in the article is true. If you have a firewall it will constantly try to connect and will actually shut off your internet forcing you to restart your computer. That’s when I decided to try and remove it. Using the add/remove programs to remove it is extremely interesting because the program pushes the cancel button for you causing you to blurt all sorts of interesting profanity and simply using the rightclick-delete will give you a file may be write protected or a file is in use by another program error. Even just deleting the shortcuts off the start menu and pretend it’s not there doesn’t work because the program will put them back after a time.

It’s a real pieace of work and I’m being nice because there are plenty other four letter words that fit better.

Geo says:

Thanks Graham

Downloading that file from Dell seemed to get rid of it at least for now, if it comes back I’ll post again.

The only thing is, this is just wrong. I shouldn’t have to download a file to delete software I don’t want. I think the bottom line is – If I can’t control, complete control, of what’s going on with my PC (in any way) then it’s not MY PC it’s THEIR PC and that’s just BS.

So therefore I’m sticking to custom building my own PCs from parts that I hand pick, and since this is in actuallity my wife’s computer, I’ll leave her to torment in DELL 🙂

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