Windows 10, Privacy, and Why I Switched to Linux

I love Windows.  My first real computer operated on Windows 95 and despite the ‘Blue Screen of Death’ perils of the operating system, I was highly impressed with the tasks I was able to accomplish.  Prior to this computer I had acquired a junky old 386 running DOS but no windows; I was actually a technophobe, still doing math on the margins of my paper in chemistry class and avoiding as much time on computers as possible.  But I decided to attend college and with that was the foresight computers were going to be big in the future, so I saved up a couple thousand dollars for my rip-roaring Pentium 5, 100 MHz computer with 32 MB of RAM and a 1.6 GB hard drive.  I loved that computer.

Through the various incarnations of Windows I became more impressed.  Themes were introduced in Windows 98 not to mention a lot more stability than the previous Windows version.  Our office computers were setup on Windows 2000 except for the mistake called Windows Millennium (that probably was the only Y2K-impacted computer), but Microsoft blasted forward with Windows XP, my next upgrade, and this computer introduced extreme stability and functionality.  Windows Vista was initially a flop but updates brought it to usability about the time Windows 7 was introduced.  The Windows 7 system brought an incredible amount of stability surpassing even XP.  The windows platform, setup, available products, and ubiquity contributed to making Windows 7 the most successful Windows operating system ever.  Then came Windows 10.

As soon as I read the press releases and privacy policy I determined that I was not going to ‘agree’ to use Windows 10.  Since most of the world still uses Windows and I am a web developer I have to have access to a Windows 10 computer for simple testing, but beyond that, the terms are too scary for me to want to participate. Ultimately, here are my major gripes with how Microsoft is conducting themselves in our current world of commerce.

Data Collection

The most controversial part of the Windows 10 privacy statement seems to have been removed in the August update, but the list of data collected is still the same. The list is quite extensive:

  • Name and contact data
  • Credentials
  • Demographic data
  • Payment data
  • Usage data
  • Interests and favorites
  • Contacts and relationships
  • Location data
  • Content

This is a lot of data for an operating system to collect, but even more than than operating system, Windows 10 contains a ton of ‘bloatware’ applications that now thanks to the anniversary update are always in your face on the start menu, they cannot be uninstalled, they cannot be hidden, and those applications are the mode of the data collection. The privacy policy says:

We get some of it by recording how you interact with our products by, for example, using technologies like cookies, and receiving error reports or usage data from software running on your device.

This is telling me that using the preloaded programs are sending data home, and a vice president at Microsoft has even confirmed it on their own blog. Call me silly, but ‘identifiable’ data or not, I do not want my operating system reporting home to master how many pictures I view on my personal computer or how many minutes I have spend on a web browser. The data collection is out of control.

Targeted Ads

Everyone is using targeted ads nowadays and the marketing machine keeps on spewing forth a tag-line something like this: ‘We will collect information so we can design our product/service with a better user experience and to deliver more relevant advertising.’  Did I miss this huge, global survey that asked people if they wanted more targeted advertising?  I must have missed it because I do not want targeted advertising!  I stopped using Google as a search engine the week I was working on an auto mechanic’s website who also sold AMSOIL.  I had to browse their website and for the rest of the week I was seeing nothing but AMSOIL advertising spewing forth on every website I visit.  I have heard that their oil is good, but I will NEVER use their product because of their marketing approach.  Does this mean I am anti-ad?  No.  In fact this website is ad-supported.  I rarely run ad-blockers and I am happy and content to see advertising on websites, and I will even purchase products from them time and again!

Here is what I do have a problem with: Advertising that is too intrusive, Advertising that is to system-heavy, and advertising that is specifically targeted because the company buying that ad has collected a bunch of information and it would like to manipulate me to purchase their product.  This is where I have a major problem with Windows 10 – Even with the privacy settings turned off, the operating system still checks home and delivers way more information than it should be doing.  I do not want the operating system collecting a ton of data against an ‘unidentifiable machine ID’ to dig through the database of advertising, to do the first item on my list: Give me intrusive ads!  What am I defining as an intrusive ad?  With regards to a website, an intrusive ad is any advertising that prevents me to seeing your content.  You do that, I leave your site…period…we are done here.  The second thing I define as an intrusive ad is anything my OS delivers to me.  If it is a preview of an app, a special ‘Try Office 365‘ notification, an item in my live tiles or start menu that I did not specifically place there, or an advertisement on my lock screen when I first turn on the computer.

Data Leaking…A Theory?

The part about Windows 10 that concerns me more than anything is the data that seems to be leaking through the company to several different nodes.  I have totally turned off all of the data collection, I do not use the apps, and on one computer I even removed all of the apps.  My hosts file that regulates internet connections contains hundreds of lines of all of the known Microsoft connection points, and when I load up TCP view to look at network connections, there are still a lot of connections to the internet.  I really want to know why Windows is so connected to the internet when I have taken so many steps to prevent that.

I have an opinion; a theory about what may be going on.  Remember when the Windows 10 files were downloaded onto previous versions of the operating system to provide a ‘better upgrade experience’?  This happened in September 2015 and many people experienced slower internet and unexplained loss of disk space.  Microsoft was pushing the Windows 10 installation files to computers to give the user ‘better experience’ for their upgrade (that many did not ask for).

What does all this have to do with why Windows 10 seems to be leaking data?  I think they are pushing personal files to the cloud attached to your machine ID.  Just like they wanted people to upgrade their computers, they want people to sign on to a Microsoft account.  They decided to download large Windows 10 files to users computers unexpectedly to give a better user experience.  So what is preventing the operating system from uploading files to a cloud account so that when you finally get your Microsoft account, you have a better user experience because your files will be there faster.  Could this explain the leaking data?  Perhaps my Tin Foil Hat will protect me.