Dear Microsoft: plz No

October 12, 2015 - General Computing, Windows

I’ve been putting writing about this off for a while, but I think it is time that I wrote about it. I wrote previously about Windows 10. It’s not a bad OS, it’s not a great OS, and it seems to take away a lot of power from the user which I strongly disagree with. Windows Update being made mandatory is, In my opinion, completely and wholly unacceptable, and the fact that anybody is willing to accept Microsoft effectively controlling what software we run on our PCs is mind-boggling.

Stop being pushy

Before Windows 10 was made available, Microsoft pushed an update- KB303583, which installed the “Get Windows 10” Program. This allowed users who wanted to upgrade to reserve their Windows 10 copy and prepare to upgrade when Windows 10 released. Fair enough. This does have a few issues. The first issue is that it never goes away, and cannot be disabled through it’s User Interface. There is no “I don’t want Windows 10, go away and don’t show me this again” option where it will actually not show it again. It will appear every boot, it will stay in the notification tray, and it won’t go away. It can be uninstalled and hidden via the Update applet, and the notification icon can be simply hidden from the notification area as well. However, this is not enough. Once Windows 10 actually dropped, this GWX application would stage, on every single system it was installed on, a Windows 10 install media set. This was done regardless of if the user said yes or no to the upgrade. If you said “No thanks” it would still download 6GB of data onto your hard drive- because clearly your decision not to upgrade was done under some delirium. Worse still, this update was marked as “Important”. it’s not Important. it doesn’t provide any importance. It is an advertising tool. It can be hidden and uninstalled though. Shady, but not unmanagable.

Microsoft has, however, crossed the line more recently. Recent updates made available to Windows 7 and 8 not only will re-install the same “Get Windows 10” content, but it will also forcibly add new telemetry tracking software to track user activity and collect data on Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. These are ‘disguised’ as “Compatibility Updates”; for example, KB2952664 is the update for Windows 7 which adds telemetry tracking to Windows 7. This collects information about and tracks how you use your system, and carts it off to Microsoft. No dialog is presented asking for permission. These are marked as “Important” updates despite not fixing or adding anything to the OS that any reasonable person outside of Microsoft could possibly tag as Important. Other updates include KB2977759, which adds “diagnostics” to the Windows Customer Experience program (whatever that means), KB2976978 which does the same for Windows 8.1.

Let me put it to you straight here- This is unethical in every possible sense of the word. Microsoft is forcing this software onto users under the false pretense of being an important update to the Operating System, when it is really nothing more than an advertising and data collection platform. It is a “marketing” update, not a technical one. It get’s worse, however. Considering the sort of Updates Microsoft is willing to push onto Windows 7 and 8 systems where users have the ability to adjust update options, imagine what they’ll be able to push to us on Windows 10, when we have severely restricted control over that update process. The most optimistic perspective would require us to assume Microsoft would only ever deploy Operating System Updates we need. But that has clearly gone out the Window with these updates they’ve released to Windows 7 and 8, making it absolutely clear that the user is not a priority- getting people to use the software Microsoft wants them to use is more important than facilitating the deployment of software that users actually want or improving the security of the product in general.

We could make an even more dramatic comparison. With the “Get Windows 10” App, A user can say “I don’t want Windows 10” effectively. Microsoft has completely disregarded “No”. They refuse to take no for an answer. They have forcibly penetrated systems with their software without user consent. You can see what analogy I am making here. It is a violent analogy and I abhor making it because it trivializes actual victims but the same mechanics are involved so I think it fits.

It is difficult to know if it is Microsoft that has changed, or maybe I’ve changed and now identify the issues that were always there. Previously, my reasoning that might explain forced auto updates might be “well, Microsoft would get bad publicity if they deployed things in bad faith”. But now- with Windows 10 getting critical acclaim – that is no longer clear. They appear to be being rewarded for unethical behaviour and I don’t know if they always have or if I’m only just noticing that now.

On the bright side, so far this only seems to affect Windows itself. Visual Studio 2015 is pretty amazing and while I’m not a huge fan of the Universal App Framework and the direction Windows-based development is trying to go, there is nothing even nearly approaching the ethical qualms involved in these Windows 7 and Windows 8 updates.

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