Microsoft vacates moral high ground for the data slurpers' cesspit

The ‘Consumerisation of IT’ – but without all the cool Consumer stuff

Opinion A funny thing happened while I was reinstalling Windows 8 over Windows 10 yesterday morning. There in front of me, halfway through the installation process, were two full, clear pages of privacy toggles. Every toggle was set to not send private information to Microsoft, or anyone else.

In addition, Windows 8 created a local user account by default – and didn’t demand I maintain a constant, umbilical connection to Microsoft’s servers. Windows 8 was configured for maximum privacy. Now compare this to the indiscriminate data slurp that Microsoft calls Windows 10. It’s basically a clumsy, 3GB keylogger.

It’s often said that with data protection and privacy, we’re like lobsters: we don’t notice the water getting warmer and warmer, until we’re boiled alive. So it’s been with Windows. Windows 8.1 didn’t show you clear choices or screens with privacy toggles anymore, but invited you to agree to either “Express Settings” for privacy (wow: cool, convenient) or “Customise” them (there be monsters). It respected your local user account, but then bullied you into switching to the umbilical when you accessed the Store. Windows 10 makes the Customise option so small it looks like the trademark notice, and even then, the defaults are set to send everything to Microsoft, and only allow you to control the data slurp partially. Local user accounts are so buggy in Windows 10 that you'll probably switch to always-being-slurped anyway.

Given that so little has fundamentally changed between Windows 8 and 10 – other than the new, amateurish and confusing UI – you could be forgiven for thinking that the whole point of the Windows 10 upgrade is to install a keylogger. Maybe that is the whole point. But hey, it’s free. And we don’t look gift horses in the mouth, right?

I think that Microsoft has badly misjudged its markets here. Particularly the enterprise market. One enterprise manager I spoke to this week, after the extent of the slurp became apparent, was simply stunned. Home folders are sent to Microsoft? It reverts default applications to whatever Microsoft chooses? This can’t be real.

(One idiotic blog even recommended installing an adware program to disable Windows 10's data grab. How are IT managers going to feel once users start acting on advice like that?)

Until last week, Microsoft could still claim to hold on to the moral high ground. Admittedly, when you stand next to Google and Facebook, even Fred the Shred comes away looking like an ethical role model. Not many global corporations can get away with suing democratically-elected crime fighters. Not many companies would be so cynical as to treat privacy lawsuits as a way of financially rewarding their sock puppets, as both Facebook and Google have done. Microsoft didn’t dictate abusive terms of trade for creators. Microsoft didn’t lobby to weaken the laws that allow you to own and control your own stuff on the internet, while Google and Facebook have – all in the name of “internet freedom”.

“Americans are freedom-loving people and nothing says ‘freedom’ like getting away with it,” goes the song.

Microsoft has actually spent a lot of money telling us that it didn’t do the creepy things that other people did. And the privacy ad campaigns, mocked at first by Google-friendly bloggers, were a slow burner. Perhaps it’s because of Dave Eggers’ terrific satire on Google and Facebook, The Circle (your summer read), or the relentless weekly intrusions by Facebook and Google, but the Scroogle message had finally begun to resonate. How many “Keep Calm While We Steal Your Data” mugs will Microsoft be able to sell now? Perhaps Google can start selling them instead, replacing the Chrome logo with the Windows logo.

So why did Microsoft vacate the moral high ground in such a clumsy, ugly data slurp?

Here’s what I think happened.

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • Ubuntu 21.10: Plan to do yourself an Indri? Here's what's inside... including a bit of GNOME schooling

    Plus: Rounded corners make GNOME 40 look like Windows 11

    Review Canonical has released Ubuntu 21.10, or "Impish Indri" as this one is known. This is the last major version before next year's long-term support release of Ubuntu 22.04, and serves as a good preview of some of the changes coming for those who stick with LTS releases.

    If you prefer to run the latest and greatest, 21.10 is a solid release with a new kernel, a major GNOME update, and some theming changes. As a short-term support release, Ubuntu 21.10 will be supported for nine months, which covers you until July 2022, by which point 22.04 will already be out.

    Continue reading
  • Heart FM's borkfast show – a fine way to start your day

    Jamie and Amanda have a new co-presenter to contend with

    There can be few things worse than Microsoft Windows elbowing itself into a presenting partnership, as seen in this digital signage for the Heart breakfast show.

    For those unfamiliar with the station, Heart is a UK national broadcaster with Global as its parent. It currently consists of a dozen or so regional stations with a number of shows broadcast nationally. Including a perky breakfast show featuring former Live and Kicking presenter Jamie Theakston and Britain's Got Talent judge, Amanda Holden.

    Continue reading
  • Think your phone is snooping on you? Hold my beer, says basic physics

    Information wants to be free, and it's making its escape

    Opinion Forget the Singularity. That modern myth where AI learns to improve itself in an exponential feedback loop towards evil godhood ain't gonna happen. Spacetime itself sets hard limits on how fast information can be gathered and processed, no matter how clever you are.

    What we should expect in its place is the robot panopticon, a relatively dumb system with near-divine powers of perception. That's something the same laws of physics that prevent the Godbot practically guarantee. The latest foreshadowing of mankind's fate? The Ethernet cable.

    By itself, last week's story of a researcher picking up and decoding the unintended wireless emissions of an Ethernet cable is mildly interesting. It was the most labby of lab-based demos, with every possible tweak applied to maximise the chances of it working. It's not even as if it's a new discovery. The effect and its security implications have been known since the Second World War, when Bell Labs demonstrated to the US Army that a wired teleprinter encoder called SIGTOT was vulnerable. It could be monitored at a distance and the unencrypted messages extracted by the radio pulses it gave off in operation.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021