Thursday, October 01, 2015
Microsoft spying comes to Windows 7
by Larry Geller
I decided not to upgrade my computer from Windows 7 to Windows 10, even though the upgrade is currently free, because of the spyware that comes along with the upgrade. In fact, Windows 10 is itself spyware.
Worse, you are automatically “opted-in” as you run the new OS for the first time. That doesn’t seem right to me. Before I can even get around to changing all the settings, Microsoft probably has everything it wants to know, including my wireless passwords (!). The software can “phone home” without you knowing it. It doesn’t ask you, it just takes your data.
Check it out from your favorite source, or Google a bit. Windows 10 spying is no secret. And if you upgrade, you have no secrets.
So I was determined to stick with Windows 7, which is far from perfect, but at least your data is not shipped wholesale off to Microsoft. Yes, Windows 7 can send diagnostic information, but you can turn it off.
Then came the news that Microsoft is bringing its spyware to Windows 7 in the form of optional patches. That was unexpected. Fortunately, you can still turn it all off, and to be safe, decline to install those patches.
For those who will stop reading here in fear of being geeked out, I apologize, but just decide if protecting your privacy is worth taking the simple steps in the article I’ll link to below. It’s not difficult, really. Just follow a couple of instructions on what to click on.
Some background and the remedy is in the article Attempting to answer whether MS is snooping by Susan Bradley in the current issue of the Windows Secrets Newsletter. I have subscribed to this newsletter, both the free and the paid versions, for years, and I respect their advice.
To avoid geek overload, scroll down to the instructions for disabling the Windows service that phones home. Essentially, you’ll be thumbing your nose at Microsoft. There’s more colorful language for it, but this is a family blog.
The article mentions things like HOSTS files that you don’t really need to know about to make this fix. Just keep skimming until you find the bit about the Control Panel and what to click there.
Windows 10 is currently a free upgrade, but I think this demonstrates that few things in the commercial world of computing are really free. What would you give up by upgrading without turning off each and every part of its somewhat intricate spy system? It would be the data about you that Microsoft wants, and which it probably would not get if it asked users to “opt-in,” which in my humble opinion would be the ethical way to do it.
How can they get away with this? The world has changed. Not only is the NSA spying on everything we do that involves moving electrons around, but by using smartphones, Chrome OS or even a Samsung intelligent TV, we are letting giant corporations collect information on us without our consent each and every hour of every day. Oh, sorry, we agreed by checking “I Accept” someplace. Some say there is no longer such a thing as privacy in this country.
Soon, your new car or refrigerator could join this conspiracy to exploit you.
A desktop computer is still the most common repository of our financial and other private details. So if you care about protecting your privacy, check out the above and other articles and try and wrest control of your computer back from Microsoft. Here is one area of your computing life where you can still do it. Microsoft is not directly stealing bank account numbers, but if hackers or dishonest employees get hold of (say) your wireless passwords, they’ll easily be able to intercept your personal data.
For those who are willing to go further, there are many ways to protect your privacy on a Windows 7 machine, including programs and browser add-ons that defeat tracking more or less well, which block ads, spyware, adware and viruses. For those with greater needs, emails and data files can be encrypted before sending them to someone.
If it’s all too much, just recruit a 13-year-old kid for help or advice.