The latest firmware update for Netgear NightHawk R700 routers adds support and enables an “analytics system” that collects user data and sends it to the company’s servers.
The Netgear NightHawk series is one of the company’s most popular router and the firmware version where this feature was added is 188.8.131.52.
Earlier this week, the company announced the new data collection practice on its website, in a knowledgebase support article, embedded below:
Technical data about the functioning and use of our routers and their WiFi network can help us to more quickly isolate and debug general technical issues, improve router features and functionality, and improve the performance and usability of our routers. Such data may include information regarding the router’s running status, number of devices connected to the router, types of connections, LAN/WAN status, WiFi bands and channels, IP address, MAC address, serial number, and similar technical data about the use and functioning of the router, as well as its WiFi network.
Option available to disable data collection feature
At the technical level, the feature makes perfect sense, as Netgear would like to collect as much data on how its products are used, how they behave, and/or crash.
The company knew some users might not like this feature, and has provided an option in the router’s configuration panel where device owners can opt-out of the data collection system.
Nonetheless, there appears to be a problem with this setting. On the Netgear user forums, one user reported that this opt-out option appears grayed out, which some users might interpret as a non-modifiable option.
“The options […] aren’t actually disabled, since the radio buttons are clickable,” the user wrote. “I am just second-guessing whether the options are actually working due to the fact that the buttons and text are gray.”
Similar issue for ASUS router owners
Netgear is not the only router manufacturer that has been criticized this month for collecting user data.
At the start of the month, ASUS has been lambasted for sending user traffic to Trend Micro servers as part of a new deep packet inspection security feature.
This article is not a critic aimed at Netgear or ASUS but meant only to inform users of their choices. Users expect more and more from their routers, but routers will never be as powerful as computers, as they run on limited hardware.
In order to support quicker detection of technical issues (like Netgear), or network management and deep packet inspection (like ASUS), routers often need to perform these operations off-device, usually on the vendor’s server, or the servers of a third-party partner.
Unlike some companies that just inform users that they’re going to collect user data and leave the user no choice, for their part, both Netgear and ASUS provide options in their devices allowing users to opt-out. If you use a Netgear or ASUS router, make sure to visit the configuration panels of those routers and adjust your privacy settings according to your personal preferences.
May 22, 2017