Private Eye Christmas Edition, 1995:

In July this year Microsoft came under fire for hiding a search facility in its new Network software, which without the user’s knowledge scanned the user’s disk for rival programs.

The company denied that this was the case, but was forced to backtrack after the American investigative journalist Andrew Schulman - who has previously used his programming skills to uncover many of Microsoft’s dirty tracks - proved that the “sniffer program” was sending details of over 100 of the user’s programs back to Microsoft. The company also denied that this new spying technology would be used for junk mail purposes. However, the temptation appears to have been too great to resist.

Last summer Private Eye reader Steve Jones, a marketing manager in Reading, bought a copy of Maxim magazine, with a No Anorak Required CD-ROM. Part of the package includes calling Microsoft from his computer to receive some codes which unlock games on the CD. Microsoft asked for his personal details, and wary of the Registration Wizard, Mr Jones passed on a false name, address, telephone and fax numbers: Mr R Head, 3 Railway Cuttings, Bollox, Surrey.

A couple of months later, at 1am, his fax machine received an exciting letter. It came from Eric Fuller from Dennis Publishing - Maxim’s publishers. “Dear Mr Head,” it begins. “As a loyal reader of Maxim magazine, I’d like to tell you how to save s…” Microsoft’s software had managed to deduce his correct telephone number: by interrogating his computer, and passed the details onto Dennis.

Mr Jones compares this intrusion to a burglar breaking into to his home to go through his address book, and has lodged a complaint with the Data Protection Registrar. Lord Gnome conveys his un-seasonal greetings to Microsoft for devising the “sniffer”... and to Dennis Publishing’s Marketing Department, for stooping so low as to actually use it.


The story was confirmed by Maxim's publisher Eric Fuller in a subsequent letter to Private Eye, reprinted here. Fuller helpfully named the software company responsible for the sniffer.