everything wrong with free software
"obedience breeds foolishness"
other pages: [[factory-reset]] | owning-your-computer | [[computing-fundamentals]] | [[beyond-computerphobia]] | [[treating-computerphobia]] | [[computerphobia]] | [[letters-to-a-computer-student]] | *originally posted:* jan 2021
people do not own their dogs, so they say-- their dogs own them. if the same is true of your computer, then you certainly dont want the computer (or dog) that owns you to be on someone elses leash. if you are to be owned by either, it is better that your own leash be the only one connected at all.
this is not how computers work for most people. the smaller leash is on the user, and the larger leash is on the computer. the larger leash is the policy of remote updates and "phoning home" to the software vendor over the network (or phone). when you wear a leash that connects you to companies like:
[lit]*[lit] *google* (phone, apps, contacts, voice assistant, tablet, search, web history, photos, file storage, gps tracking)
[lit]*[lit] *ibm* ("cloud" services, server[lit]/[lit]pc service management, "big data" aka surveillance)
[lit]*[lit] *amazon* (voice assistant, "cloud" services, your books, your groceries, your actual computer and accessories)
[lit]*[lit] *facebook* (whatsapp, contacts, online friends, "big data" aka surveillance, web history, photos, facial recognition, location tracking)
[lit]*[lit] *apple* ("cloud" services, apps, photos, phone, contacts, voice assistant, tablet, web history, your actual computer and accessories)
[lit]*[lit] *microsoft* (voice assistant, operating system, apps, photos, "cloud" services, contacts, tablet, web history, "big data" aka surveillance)
these companies have more control over you through your computing than you have over your computer.
want an example? lets look at your dog.
literally-- lets look at pictures of your dog. maybe you have a cat, or youre pet-sitting someone elses dog-- for now, lets imagine that (like many people) your phone or your computer is full of dog or cat photos. someone was showing me dog pictures on their phone the other day.
when you take pictures of your dog, the primary goal is (simply) to have a picture of your dog. maybe youll add the date; polaroid still makes instant film cameras, and people will write captions or sometimes the date on the back or on the border around the picture (if there is one).
your phone just goes nuts with this though. it tracks the date, the time, whether the flash was used, the model of the camera (which is usually a phone) and if your gps is enabled, it will add *the precise gps coordinates of where the picture was taken* to your photo.
so no big deal right? chances are, most pictures of your dog are taken at home, and most people who want to see your dog know where you live anyway. plus, if you just take out your phone and show someone the picture, they dont get that data. plus you can always remember to turn gps off when you take a photo.
anyway, if we take *only* your dog photos, then we put those online for other people to see, now someone can take all your dog photos and (very trivially, it needs to be said) extract this data (which is called exif) get the coordinates, plug them into a google map and *get a map of everywhere youve taken a picture of your dog*. ever. along with the date and time you were at each location.
i suppose its fortunate that most people dont do this. but it isnt hard to do. and the fact that these "helpful" companies keep throwing all this data together by default, because you never know when youll want the exact gps coordinates of your dogs vet, your favourite park (just sort the locations by how many instances, we can determine which park youre most likely to take your dog to) your significant others front porch, the route you take at 5 in the morning and what part of it youre most likely to be on at a certain time on average...
this isnt the sort of detail about your life that needs to be glued to the back of every picture you take! the good news is that some companies will actually remove the gps data (along with some of the other data) before serving it to the public. they can still use the same data for their own purposes, and its still very possible to accidentally share this data publicly without realising it, but if you have an option to strip this data you should definitely turn it on. its also possible to strip exif data before you upload it-- but with "cloud" sync and that sort of automatic data suckage, you may have already uploaded your pictures without trying.
at any rate, these companies are very interested in making money *gleaning details* about your personal life (big data) and selling them off to companies so they can target ads at you. and inform your insurance company about your lifestyle. and they sometimes sell this sort of data to the government, but who cares about that? persistent and finely-detailed surveillance was never a problem for most people, except for that time you went to that occupy protest--
*oh!* and your prospective employers like to go through this stuff too, when they can find it. but they probably wont care about that picture of you with a lampshade on your head three years ago, right? nor if you were walking by that fascist rally on the way to starbucks. after all, you *really were* just getting a coffee, so nobody is going to misinterpret anything.
but lets say youre lindsay lohan (sorry linds) and your life is already an open book, everyone knows how many times youve been to rehab, what you were arrested for, which drugs you did, what you said about your black friend when you were drunk (i know, you didnt mean it) and surveillance doesnt bother you because the world already knows youre a hot mess (and seriously im sorry for making fun of lindsay lohan, but if she ever gets her life straight and is happier for it i honestly wish her all the best. but girl, delete your facebook!)
the thing is, if youre not worried about carrying around the *perfect* tool for someone to stalk you with, there are still other aspects of your computing that youll never have control of as long as you put misplaced faith in these companies. they will also use updates to remove features, updates will occasionally corrupt your own files, they will add features you dont want and deprecate features you rely on. some automatic updates will slow down your computer or phone, which happens to encourage people to go buy another. if you want your computer to work the way it does when you rely on it, you should be in charge of updates-- you should be in charge of what data gets shared, these companies should not treat your computer like it belongs to them instead of you.
and if you really want to understand computers, note that they are going to be regularly abstracting, obfuscating and redesigning your system-- all while pretending that their designs are representative of how computers work. that half-truth was already covered, but just to say it again, if you want to understand how computers work you have to get past that superficial layer. and you can do that layer by layer, but the faster way is to simply build from the ground up. ([[factory-reset]])