When we consider the tech stack we work with each day, this involves a number of devices such as a laptop or desktop, a mobile phone, tablets and perhaps tools like Amazon Echo or Apple’s HomePod. Of course there is a plethora of other tools such as watches, fitness trackers, streaming boxes (Roku and Apple TV), or smart devices like doorbells, fridges , and even toothbrushes.
A lot of ground could be covered addressing these areas, but I’m not going to do that. I want to simply get you thinking about aspects of our lives that may be impacted by privacy related things that you might not ordinarily think about.
The first layer I believe is the day to day use of our computers, whether that be a laptop or desktop. I realize that in a lot of situations, like the computers we use for work, we can’t use another alternative, nor do we have the ability to override settings set by a IT team.
With the advent of Windows 10, Microsoft came under-fire for the amount of information it was sending back to their servers. If I recall they claimed it was for analytics to help with better rolling of releases of features and security updates. While that may be the case, they collect a lot of information from their OS and there really is no way of really telling what they are collecting in regards to habits of software and web traffic usage. With every update there is a need to reconfigure your OS to limit those settings that are sending off data to Microsoft, and I don’t believe there is anyway to completely stop it.
Apple is better at the data they collect, and their motto in recent years has been one of privacy. We see this in particular with their new App store policies that require developers to be transparent with what they are doing with their apps. This has cause some push back, particular from the likes of Facebook and Google. While Apple does a better job at privacy, a bit of their core functionality, such as the app store, and even getting software updates require you to log in to your Apple account to gain access to those things.
I would say most Linux distributions are probably the crème de la crème when it comes to respecting privacy. I’m a Pop_OS! user and there is some aspects of metrics that are being sent back to System76, and there is no user accounts or sign-ups required like Microsoft or Apple puts in place. According to System76’s webite:
Pop!_OS does not collect or store any info from user installations. Minimal OS and hardware data is used—not stored—to provide updates and connectivity verification.
Most Linux distro’s likely can claim this and are not as obtrusive as the mainstream OS’s like Microsoft or Apple.
A word about hardware
Hardware can also play a factor in a users privacy. Companies like Purism and System76 are making efforts to reduce the dependency on ‘closed source’ software from being used to run computers. Closed source software means that companies like Intel or AMD might embed software on their hardware that isn’t available to the public for review and so that software is unknown in what it actually does. Purism and System76 are using software that anyone can look at and understand it. I am not one of those people, but I trust those who do know, would raise questions if there was any concern.
Where to go from here?
I’ve used all three platforms above. I’ve grown to really appreciate Linux and the respect for privacy. While Apple and Microsoft likely isn’t using the data they collect for nefarious reasons, it doesn’t stop them from using it as such. It also may be used against you in censorship or activity they determine against their values, or lack there of.
There is no perfect solution and there are certainly trade-offs in what you choose to use. While I can’t specifically make a recommendation to everyone. I think it’s important to evaluate your acceptable risk level and how likely that is to be a risk to you. I hope to write more on that later.
I hope this just gets you thinking about aspects of your tech usage and how that data is used. Any Internet search can point you to troubling things about Microsoft and Apple and what they are or are not doing to protect your privacy.