As the world of computing has become pervasive and embedded in the lives of everyone, we have become acutely aware of the importance of our data and the work undertaken by those who want it. Whilst that average person doesn’t generally percieve all of their data with equal importance they will be surprised to see what data is considered valuable by corporations. If asked to handover your credit card details you would rightly be protective and defensive, but you may be less concerned about what information websites use to ‘personalise’ in page ads. However once you know this data, usually considered anonymous, can be used to identify you as an individual and then track you, you might think again.
Anonymous data can be used to identify you as an individual
A number of studies have proved that the once considered sterile data is rich in individual DNA. This article by science journal Nature lists several such studies but importantly the Study by scientists MIT showed that with very little purchase data they were able to identify individuals from large data sets. It’s this kind of data that is used to ‘personalise’ online ads, so this means any tracking that includes purchase or product views, or content that can be attributed to demographics, can be used to identify individuals. Questioning the anonymous status of most commercial tracking and re-targeting.
The web as a ‘Checkpoint Charlie‘ for your data is an open field where any party can deploy mechanisms to protect and obtain data. Adblockers, encryption and a wealth of browser tools can assist the protection of data, but when the tracking and data aqusition moves from the web to your desktop, it’s an offensive move that will prove hard to counter. This brings me to my current privacy bugbear and one that many others are currently wrestling with. Windows10, having now installed and upgraded four machines with Microsoft’s latest OS and acquiring a new laptop with Windows10 pre-installed, I have encounter a range of worrying standards within this OS that points to an almagamation of the online tracking and mobile OS pre-installed tools, to create a complex and rich source of personal data harvesting. This should be considered a move too far and opening a pandora’s box of privacy concerns. But I expect Microsoft are expecting the masses to outwiegh the protests and allow most, if not all, of these ‘expoits’ to become normalised. Yes I use the term exploits here intentionally because I consider them with the same concern as security exploits, especially as Microsoft has referred to some of the settings in Windows10 and the OS itself as security requirements.
Is Windows10 the new Checkpoint Charlie for your data
The EFF has an article that details the actual install process and upgrade push by Microsoft to herd as many users onto Windows10, but it’s the post install issues that now plague the user. All privacy options are automatically set to ‘on’ even though in some installs and upgrades they were set to ‘off’. One particular machine I use often will reset certain privacy settings every few days, specifically data sharing across apps and recommendations in the start screen. This is more akin to the privacy debates of Facebook.
I’m not going to start listing all the privacy concerns individually, but for a user to have to go through several pages of privacy settings, once they’ve installed Windows10, just to ensure their data is under their control is a worrying development To have to keep checking these settings as they may change at any point, is aggressive data snatching. I’ve always used a Firewall to protect my machine from suspicious internet traffic, but it seems I need to check the upstram traffic for suspicious pick-pocketing of my data from my OS. Although I only use Windows for certain applicaitons and projects, I consider Windows10 is a huge push to drop Windows altogether.
I recommend all users check the Privacy settings from the Settings screen on any Windows10 install and also look at all settings as often some tracking options are buried in what should be just programme settings. You’d be suprised to see just how much of your activities and data are crossing the bridge at Checkpoint Charlie.