Windows Backports Spyware – Tin Foil Hat Time 5

The Article

Since the release of Windows 10 many people have been troubled over the telemetry included in the operating system.  This telemetry is the core reason that I have decided to switch to Linux.  I do not buy the statements that this mass data collection is to ‘make a better user experience’.  But are we safe merely keeping our previous Windows computers?  This is a difficult decision, because most of the things that keep me away from Windows 10 is also backported to the other supported Microsoft operating systems.  For this reason, we are left with two Windows options: 1.) do not update the system and leave the computer open to vulnerabilities, or 2.) update the computer and allow the telemetry into Windows.  I do not like either option.

My Poor Surface

I picked up a Surface Pro 1 several months after the system was released and at the time I believed the computer to be one of the best pieces of hardware I have purchased.  The computer was solid, the processor was powerful, and I really did not hate Windows 8 (though I did not really like it).  The Windows 8 system worked very well on the Surface and I was very happy with the computer.  Fast forward to a few months after Windows 10 was released, I wanted to see how the OS worked so the Surface, being used only for my writing, was updated so I could actually get the Windows 10 nag button so I could update the system, and update it did.

Wow I hated Windows 10!  On the surface (yes – bad pun!) Windows 10 had a lot of applications I had no interest in using but they were deeply integrated into the operating system. I could not uninstall them, nor could I even hide them from the applications lists.  But more troubling to me was the telemetry.  Using a program called TCP View you can see all of the network connections that a computer is making through various ports.  Running TCP View on a Windows 7 computer that has not been updated in a couple years shows approximately 30-50 ports open without any applications running.  But on a Windows 10 computer, that number boosts to about 200, many of them are system processes connected to the Internet transmitting data back and forth between servers in many countries.

I took the best step I could think of and reverted the computer back to Windows 8.  Sadly, all of these port connections are still present even after rolling the system back to Windows 8.  As of now, the Surface computer has 13 connections to the Internet without any applications running despite having taken many steps to block all services possible.  My computer is sending plenty data back and forth and there seems to be nothing I can do about it without wiping the computer.

This is Not a Surprise

This telemetry backporting is not something that is new or unexpected.  It has been reported many times before that Windows is introducing these codes into computer updates.  It is for this reason that I do not recommend any Windows versions.  My main concern is the constant sharing of information and collecting data.  I cannot see what they are collecting and I cannot opt out the data collection.

Better User Experience

The first reason companies spout about data collection is to provide a ‘better user experience’.  This is not their reason as evidenced by several factors.  First, these companies be it Microsoft, Apple, Google, or others continue to add new features are that not enjoyed by a large portion of the users as evidenced by the threads on user forums for the services.  Any by the way, the companies do not generally monitor those forums.  The next reason the ‘better user experience’ excuse is a fallacy is the constant circumvention of the processes users takes to block some aspects of the operating system.  On my Windows 10 computer I have uninstalled Candy Crush and several other applications many, many times but they keep coming back!  If it was about the user experience, they would collect the number of times that a given computer has uninstalled these applications and given a better user experience by keeping the applications off of the computer!  Finally, if a better user experience were the final goal, the systems would become more customizable over time but we instead begin to see captive software we cannot remove, disable, or hide.  We find themes that only allow for small choices and edits.  This is a not a better user experience.

What’s Really Going On?

The real reason for all this telemetry is to collect your data to either sell the information for advertising benefit (without the hat) or to collect personal data using third party doctrine (with the hat).  Microsoft, Apple, and many other larger service-based systems are merely interested in collecting every bit of data they can to use for their purposes, not for yours.  Whether they are interested in collecting your data to sell to their advertisers or to collect your data for more nefarious purposes, they are still collecting too much data in Windows 10, but also now in Windows 7 and Windows 8.  This is not about you or your user experience, it is about them collecting data to sell your information or worse.

What Can We Do?

This is a difficult question.  If you want to stay on Windows you have the same two choices I have already mentioned.  You can stop all updates (going back to before Windows 10) and then be left with an operating system with security vulnerabilities.  Or you can update and open your computer up to give a lot of information to Microsoft.  Given these two options, I have opted for third choice: I switched to Linux!

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