by Guy Brandon, 5th August 2015
Earlier this week millions of users installed Windows 10 as a free upgrade – a volume of traffic so large that experts warned it would slow the entire internet. But in our race for free software, are we overlooking the real price we pay?
Windows 10 has been described as ‘incredibly intrusive’, ‘invasive by default’ and potentially capable of collecting ‘more personal information than any operating system in history’.
Large-scale data collection – by both governments and corporations – is taken as read in today’s hyper-connected world. Instead of charging for services up-front (like earlier versions of Windows that were sold), companies are increasingly giving away their software on the understanding that users will part with their personal data in return.
Many of us simply consider this as the price of doing business. If you want to use Google, Facebook or, now, Windows 10, it’s on the basis that the company is going to squeeze every last iota of information out of you, which they will monetise in various ways and with varying degrees of transparency (and permission). Facebook, for example, is capable of accessing your browsing history even if you were not logged in at the time, which is why it will often show you adverts for things that are relevant to your recent web searches but have nothing to do with your Facebook activity itself. Google, of course, is built on the acquisition and monetisation of user data gained from its otherwise free services.
Now, Microsoft wants a slice of the same action, hence the free upgrade and, it seems, their new data collection policy – which is less than crystal clear. As one blogger wrote of Windows 10’s claims of transparency, ‘There is no world in which 45 pages of policy documents and opt-out settings split across 13 different Settings screens and an external website constitutes “real transparency.”’
Why you should care
Faced with the knowledge of such large-scale surveillance and harvesting of personal information, most people – and especially most Christians – tend to take the line, ‘I’m not doing anything wrong so I’ve got nothing to worry about’. Here are just a few reasons, both practical and religious, that you might want to think again:
- The Bible is highly sceptical of centralised power, whether political, financial or technological. The reason is that any earthly power is prone to corruption and has a tendency towards evil. The archetype of this is Egypt, the nation under which the Israelites served as slaves for 400 years. Any government, corporation or other organisation capable of mass surveillance inherently represents a dangerous concentration of power.
- As has been proved time and again, we cannot be certain that the data won’t be accessed by hackers or malicious third parties for identity theft and other purposes.
- Information is power. Once organisations have collected enough information on us it becomes possible to predict and influence our behaviour to a surprising and frightening degree. This necessarily reduces the freedom we have to act autonomously.
- Where there is a lack of transparency and accountability, the risk is particularly high.
- When we make concessions about privacy, we have no idea where these will lead in the long term. By doing this unthinkingly, we tacitly state that the right to browse the web, communicate online and use the different services offered is more important than our own freedom.
- Christians have historically been subject to persecution by the authorities. Colluding with the erosion of privacy not only makes this easier, it potentially puts other people at serious risk too.
- ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.’ (Galatians 5:1) When we allow a third party a degree of control over us, we potentially give up our own freedom. This is not unlike the Israelites grumbling about missing the slavery of Egypt (Exodus 16:3).
What to do
If you would like to know more, take a look at our short booklet, Thinking Biblically About… Surveillance.
You might like to watch this TED talk, This Is Why You Should Care About Privacy.