Prodigy denies peeking at its subscribers' files


WASHINGTON -- Prodigy Services Co. wants to make this point perfectly clear: Contrary to published reports, the information services company doesn't peek at the private messages of its 1 million subscribers.

That was the word yesterday from Prodigy, a joint venture of Sears, Roebuck and Co. and International Business Machines Corp. The company announced that it was making available to all members free of charge a software diskette to ensure that personal files stay that way.

Prodigy has come under criticism after some users charged that the company was peeking at personal messages. The charge was strenuously denied by Prodigy.

Earlier this year, published reports said some Prodigy subscribers found stray snippets of non-Prodigy data, such as personal files, in two files set up by the subscribers' computers to run the Prodigy service.

According to Prodigy, the snippets were either data that had been erased but not removed from a member's computer or data left over from software run just before Prodigy was installed.

But some people worried in published reports that Prodigy may see these snippets, representing a violation of the privacy of users.

According to Steve Hein, a Prodigy spokesman in White Plains, N.Y.,the giveaway diskette should alleviate those "unfounded" concerns.

Mr. Hein said that the Prodigy software will erase any snippets that show up where they shouldn't be.

To bolster its contention that the company doesn't peek at personal files, Prodigy announced yesterday the results of a security audit by the Coopers & Lybrand accounting firm.

The firm's investigation supports the company's claim that "it does not in any manner access, read, upload or store data contained in or derived from private files on the computers of Prodigy service members."

Prodigy has been battling a public relations black eye since late last year, when the company announced plans to start charging a fee for electronic mail, a service that previously was offered on an unlimited basis as part of the basic monthly subscription fee. At the same time, charges surfaced that Prodigy was peeking at the personal files of some users.

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