The EFF scolds Microsoft for anti-consumer Windows 10 tactics

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is “the leading nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world.” If you’re not familiar with their work, you should be.

In a recent post on their site, the EFF provides a scathing review of Microsoft’s troublesome decisions in relation to Windows 10, including: hitherto unheard-of free upgrades; insistent and entrenched upgrade prompts on Windows 7 and 8; pushing Windows 10 upgrades via Windows Update; categorizing privacy-compromising and advertising-related updates as important for security; user interface tricks that are common to malware; collecting and transmitting large amounts of potentially sensitive data from Windows computers to Microsoft; failing to provide either adequate explanations for — or methods for disabling — various unwanted features; obfuscating their intentions behind claims of improved security and enhanced functionality; and claims that Windows Update is somehow unable to function without privacy-violating functionality enabled.

It concludes with a stern warning:

Microsoft should come clean with its user community. The company needs to acknowledge its missteps and offer real, meaningful opt-outs to the users who want them, preferably in a single unified screen. It also needs to be straightforward in separating security updates from operating system upgrades going forward, and not try to bypass user choice and privacy expectations.

Otherwise it will face backlash in the form of individual lawsuits, state attorney general investigations, and government investigations.

We at EFF have heard from many users who have asked us to take action, and we urge Microsoft to listen to these concerns and incorporate this feedback into the next release of its operating system. Otherwise, Microsoft may find that it has inadvertently discovered just how far it can push its users before they abandon a once-trusted company for a better, more privacy-protective solution.

Windows users face a choice:

  • Option #1: Continue using Windows 7, 8 and 10. Trust that Microsoft’s intentions are good; that they are not really trying to control what we see, and track what we do, when we use Windows.
  • Option #2: Continue using Windows 7, 8 and 10. Assume that Microsoft will back down from its more aggressive moves, whether prompted by consumer backlash or legal action.
  • Option #3: Continue using Windows 7, 8 and 10. Disable what you can, block what you can, and stop using Windows Update, hoping that this will prevent Microsoft from compromising your privacy, but making your computer increasingly less secure.
  • Option #4: Continue using Windows 7, 8 and 10. Rely on the computing community to develop ways to block Microsoft’s attempts to control and monitor users (without compromising security), as we’ve already seen in the form of GWX Control Panel and other software.
  • Option #5: Stop using Windows 7, 8 and 10. Rather than wait for Microsoft’s plans to reach their probable conclusion (a Microsoft-controlled advertising platform on every desktop), switch to a less problematic operating system, such as Linux.

Recommendation: Option #5 if you can; otherwise Option #4. Option #3 should be viewed as a temporary solution only, and dangerous in the long run. Option #2 is probably overly optimistic. Option #1 is just sadly naive.

The Verge and Techdirt have their own take on the EFF’s post.

About jrivett

Jeff Rivett has worked with and written about computers since the early 1980s. His first computer was an Apple II+, built by his father and heavily customized. Jeff's writing appeared in Computist Magazine in the 1980s, and he created and sold a game utility (Ultimaker 2, reviewed in the December 1983 Washington Apple Pi Journal) to international markets during the same period. Proceeds from writing, software sales, and contract programming gigs paid his way through university, earning him a Bachelor of Science (Computer Science) degree at UWO. Jeff went on to work as a programmer, sysadmin, and manager in various industries. There's more on the About page, and on the Jeff Rivett Consulting site.

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