Concerns for my Microsoft dependence

My name is Carolyn, and I’m a long time Windows OS (Operating System) user.  Recently I began to see how it might be impacting negatively on my, and maybe all our lives.  I upgraded to Windows 10, used it for a couple of weeks, then began to have second thoughts.  I reverted back to Windows 7 as offered in the first month after the upgrade. All seems well on the most visible surface of the new OS, but it is the less visible operations that require more investigation.

My biggest concerns are with the ways Windows 10 may violate users’ privacy, and/or delivers users up to Microsoft’s other money-making services, and to other marketers. In this Microsoft seem to be taking a step beyond such incursions by others into social media, especially on Facebook, and delivering them to the most private spaces where we live. My worries are that, not being a tech-head, and having gone along with the ongoing developments of operating systems, I now have very little control over what Microsoft is doing with the systems I use for my most personal data.

It is also a major step along the way to the commercialisation of computing and the internet, once seen as a revolutionary open source system that would promote grassroots, citizen democracy: a free, sharing, gift economy.

Windows 10, as a (possibly desperate) move by Microsoft to protect and expand its market monopoly/dominance, in the face of increasing competition. It just seems to be a step too far for me.

Windows 10: the pros and cons

Generally Windows 10 has been getting good reviews as regards its usability, and the capabilities it offers. A few reviewers recommend that Windows 7 users stay with it.  However, many also say 10 is a better option than Windows 8, which is considered to have been a pretty mediocre system: it took on a lot of features of touch screen mobile devices, but when used for a device focused on the keyboard and mouse, it seems a bit chaotic and confusing.

For instance Woody Leonhard at infoworld says:

Windows 10 is what Windows 8 should have been, but it has too many rough edges to attract Windows 7 users. Continuous upgrades could change that as early as this fall.

He does not seem to have concerns about Windows 10 and privacy issues, praising the security features, which

… proudly offers a bundle of new features, including improved security, a new browser, and the voice-activated intelligent assistant Cortana. You might even call Windows 10 the most revolutionary version of Windows ever, mainly because it will be continually upgraded as part of Microsoft’s “Windows as a service” effort.

In the gift horse’s mouth: enticement to revenue-generating capabilities

“Windows as a service” makes the OS free to non-business users, in order to shift the costs to businesses (they will have to pay for it), and to accessing add-on services such as games and apps. Search capabilities also aim to encourage the generation of revenue.

Gregg Keiser explains:

Microsoft’s strategy is to go low on consumer Windows licenses, hoping that that will boost device sales, which will in turn add to the pool of potential customers for advertising, services and apps. In other words, what Microsoft gives up in selling each Windows license it figures to make up in volume elsewhere.

Leonhard is glowing about most of the new features in Windows 10, although he also does point out some flaws.  His claim for increased security does seem to relate to a built in anti-virus and to security breaches by those outside of Microsoft’s sphere of influence:

This includes “… multifactor security techniques tied to accounts where you simply log in once and do nearly anything.

It also aims to make private data secure when using public networks, and more.

Windows 10 and privacy

Online there are arguments for and against Microsoft on privacy.  The pro-Microsoft arguments tend to say that there are similar features in earlier Windows OS’s, and that the 10 version is just a continuation of that.  They also argue for such features being necessary, and against them being a bad invasion of privacy.

WheezyJoe outlines some of the privacy concerns, with a link to an article on Verge article on the privacy policy for Windows 10. WheezyJoe argues that Verge’s piece takes a “Microsoft-friendly” approach. There is also a link to the Windows’ privacy policy:

Alex Hern writes in the Guardian, on 1 August:

Hundreds of commenters on sites such as Hacker News and Reddit have criticised default settings that send personal information to Microsoft, use bandwidth to upload data to other computers running the operating system, share Wi-Fi passwords with online friends and remove the ability to opt out of security updates.

Windows 10 includes embedded personalised adverts, gives the user a unique advertising ID, which is linked to the users’ email address. The latter is linked to other services.

Using that information, Microsoft is able to personalise ads to the user, during both web surfing and, for newer apps downloaded from the Windows Store, app usage.

For instance, Windows 10 turns Microsoft’s previously in-built Solitaire card game into an app that has unskippable ads.

Some articles provide advice on how to switch of the 12 or 13 features that could enable privacy breaches:

However, others claim the OS will continue to send data to Microsoft even after the data-sharing features have been turned off.

Beyond privacy to loss of control, & spying potential

This leads to suggestions of Windows 10 (possibly inadvertently) enabling spying on users – invoking the likes of the NSA/5 Eyes keystroke digital spying capabilities.

Since I have reverted back to Windows 7, every time I logon, I get a pup op message saying Microsoft recommends that I upgrade to Windows 10, or that my Windows 10 Upgrade is waiting for me.  Such a desperate hard sell just makes me feel resistant.

Leonhard also points out that people like me, who have had second thoughts about Windows 10, will be locked from further upgrades for Windows 7 – he gives a step by step guide as to how to disable the lock.

It puts me in mind of Doctor Who’s Cybermen and their refrain, ‘You must be upgraded” – to the free system, promising a higher level of humanity; but  where people will become an integral part of the machine, and lose their humanity and freewill. The alternative to being upgraded, is being deleted [see Merovee on WordPress, site of the feature image].

In the next part I will look at some of the alternatives to Microsoft.

Also: Check out this thought provoking article: 8 Ways Technology Is Improving Your Health.

Carolyn is committed to economic and social justice. She has researched and taught in film, TV and media studies, sociology and gender studies. Carolyn is actively interested in local history, and its impact on the present and future. Carolyn currently works part time as a research librarian in Auckland Libraries, which is part of Auckland Council. The views, analysis, and opinions she expresses on this site are her own, and not those of Auckland Council.