There’s been a lot of buzz around the internet lately about the tactics Microsoft is using to get users to update to Windows 10. For much of the summer, it’s been “automatic downloads” this and “automatic installation” that.
But Windows 10 is better than Windows 7 or Windows 8(.1), isn’t it? True, I’ve heard plenty of testimonials from people who’ve gotten the new OS and love it. It has a completely rebuilt browser, Microsoft Edge, that allegedly blows Internet Explorer out of the water (not that Microsoft is above scaring novice computer users when they try to switch to Chrome or Firefox). Personalized, voice-activated search is built in thanks to deep Cortana integration (leaving aside the fact that some of us prefer Google Now). There should be lots of good reasons to upgrade.
Trouble is, it’s probably not a good idea to upgrade—not if you have any sense of privacy.
Windows 10 is worse than the town gossip. Windows 10 is the friend who can’t keep anything secret. Windows 10, simply put, is an uncontrollable blabbermouth.
Investigations have shown that Windows 10’s privacy settings do not actually provide full control over what Microsoft calls “usage information”. Turning off every option to send data back to Microsoft still lets some information get sent back. According to Ars Technica UK, certain requests are still made to Microsoft servers even with every possible setting disabled. That’s creepy, sleazy, and probably illegal in the European Union. (If it’s not, it should be.)
Do other operating systems “phone home” like this? Sure they do.
The last time I set up Ubuntu 14.04 on a desktop machine, I had to jump through some hoops to disable sending local search queries to Amazon, because Canonical makes money partly through commissions on sales generated when users click on products within the Unity UI’s search function. But that’s one of the very few places Ubuntu actually sends out information, to my knowledge—and more importantly, it obeys a single setting that turns off all Web results within the Unity launcher. Flip that one switch off and BAM! no more searches for your own files and apps get sent off to the internet.
Apple’s Mac OS X has included online search results in Spotlight for a couple years now, too. But, again, it’s easily disabled. The other times OS X wants to send information to Apple, so far as I know, it prompts the user (usually after an app crashes or the system experiences a severe problem).
Under Windows XP and 7 (I have essentially zero personal experience with Vista or 8), Microsoft offered the same kind of optional feedback mechanism as Mac OS X. If an app crashed, the OS gave the option to send an error report. If Windows itself failed, it offered to send crash details to Microsoft the next time it booted successfully. If the user clicked “Don’t Send”, in either case, the information never left the local machine.
None of these are creepy, because they respect the user’s choice.
Me, Myself, and Windows
Over the last several years, I accumulated a veritable collection of (pre-owned) computers from other students at college. My physical holdings include a 2009 Sager gaming notebook, a 2013 Sony Vaio, and a 2006 Acer desktop that’s undergone numerous upgrades.1 All of these machines run some edition of Windows 7.
I object to Windows 10 because of the combination of privacy concerns and strong-arming of users into upgrading. And I’ll have to take swift geek action to block the upgrade before Microsoft tries to force Windows 10 onto all of these machines. Consumers like me are unfortunately in the minority, but we do not like being pushed around by our operating systems.
When I tell my computer that I don’t want it to send data back to its maker, it should respect that choice.
When I tell my computer that I don’t want it to upgrade to the next version of its operating system, it should respect that choice.
When I tell my computer not to do anything, it should respect that choice.
If the choice is ill-advised, the computer may show the user a warning explaining why—but only if there is actual risk. (And no, Windows 10, switching to Chrome or Firefox is not actually risky.)
The user must have control. The computer is a tool. It should not contradict the user’s commands. Asimov got this one very, very right.
If Microsoft really does go through with this upgrade push, I doubt there will be anything they could possibly do to regain my trust. I’ll never buy a Windows license—even pre-installed on a new computer—again.
- These are just the Windows machines. I also have a 2011 MacBook Pro, and a 2007-era white polycarbonate MacBook rebuilt with spare parts (which proved too underpowered for my intended uses). Feel free to get in touch if you have use for the old MacBook; I’m open to offers, though it’s currently in storage halfway across the country. [↩]