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I have a kiss-and-tell keyboard

Gary W. Priester

A few weeks ago I added a personal firewall software program, Zone Alarm Pro, to my computer. Unlike virus protection that keeps you from receiving or sending virus infected messages, a firewall protects your computer from intrusions by hackers while your computer is connected to the Internet. And yes, these intrusions can happen to you and do pose a threat to the privacy of information on your computer, including credit card and other personal information.

Zone Alarm Pro checks with you before allowing programs on your computer to connect to the Internet. Many software applications, such as Microsoft Works, look for product updates while you are connected to the Internet. This is okay. But what about programs you have never heard of?

When Zone Alarm asked if I wanted to grant access to Netropa Hotkeys I said, Who? A quick search on found a revealing conference on the HP Web site for computer information-technology support persons. They were shocked to find that Netropa HotKeys, which comes standard with every new HP Pavilion computer, contains a spyware component that transmits information to HP. Whoa! You don’t mean HP, that name we know and trust? Yep! The very said same. While nobody knows for sure what information is being sent to HP via the Netropa HotKeys Internet keyboard, it appears that at the very least, whenever you use one of the programmable hot-key buttons to access a Web site, the request is sent first to HP, who forwards you to the desired site. This would suggest that HP could surf along with you noting what sites you visit and what your interests are. A definite privacy issue.

Bill Payne has done a lot of looking into Netropa HotKeys and answered my question about what kinds of information is being transmitted, “It is mostly data about [your] surfing habits, which they sell to targeted advertising.” Payne continued, “One thing they also send is the UID of your computer, which can be used by hackers or anyone else with the right knowledge to personally [identify] you.” This means HP could know who you are though your Windows CPU’s unique ID number.

I spoke with Todd Fisher, a tech support person at HP, who suggested I block Netropa HotKeys through Zone Alarm Pro or remove the keyboard software. Removing the keyboard software is not an option because it disables the keyboard. Blocking Netropa HotKeys via Zone Alarm stops you from accessing the Internet. They don’t give you many options. Fisher was not able to comment on Netropa HotKeys spyware. I asked Fisher when did I give HP permission to activate this spyware. “When you started your computer for the first time you accepted the terms and conditions,” was his reply. Had I said no to these terms, I guess I would not be able to use my computer!

What I have since learned is that the spyware only works when you use the hot-key buttons on the keyboard. If you use Zone Alarm Pro to block Netropa HotKeys and launch your browser and e-mail through the Windows start menu, then you’re okay. One small step for computer privacy.

I sent letters to Michael Dell, President and CEO of DELL Computer, and DELL’s medi relations department asking about what kinds of information was being collected through my DELL Computer’s Netropa HotKeys keyboard, with whom was this information being shared, and for what reason? I have not received a response from DELL. If and when I do, I will let you know what I have been ablel to find out.

For more information on Zone Alarm Personal Firewall software, visit

This is the HP conference from which I first learned of the spyware element of Netropa HotKeys keyboards business customer discussion groups - HP-Netropa keyboard spyware

HP's Keyboard Spyware This is’s website run by Bill Payne

Follow up A spokesperson from DELL Computer got in touch with me and said that DELL has a very strict privacy policy as outlined on their website and that DELL does not use the spyware portion of the Netropa HotKeys software.

HP has not responded other than as outlined in the story.




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