In a momentous several times per lifetime chance people are getting a free upgrade to the brand new Windows 10 platform just released on the 29th of July. As soon as it launched this weekend however widespread criticism on privacy rights has been a major concern with the platform.
Trans* Youth Channel however, an organization that seeks to bridge the gap between out LGBT+ organizations and the largely invisible online community, sees these privacy issues as a much larger problem than most seem to think it is.
Web privacy is integral to the success of closeted and stealth LGBT+ individuals as well as those who don’t have resources locally because without resources, community, and proper research, they’re in the dark; something that as Leelah Alcorn exemplified, can be fatal. Suicide rates are astronomically high in the community because of familial and social hurdles barring invisible members to these resources and the stigma that comes with being a member of the LGBT+ community. A safe, anonymous and secure internet is such a small window to resources that could save thousands of lives, but Windows 10 could potentially snuff out the only access many people may have to these online LGBT+ resources…right from installation.
Here are 5 examples of how Windows 10 is detrimental to the safety, security, and ultimate well-being of the LGBT+ communities’ closeted, stealth, questioning, and under-resourced population:
1. At start up
Before windows 10 has even finished installing on your computer a closeted LGBT+ person is at risk. Take a moment to actually read the 2 “express settings” screen versions for windows 10.
Why is this a problem?
I hope you already see the general lack of okay-ness here and if not view this general article on how this is not okay, but for the LGBT+ community specifically we’ll use a running example.
Let’s call the person in our example John for sake of not being completely hypocritical and ‘outing’ a real life closeted LGBT+ individual. John is a closeted Trans* masculine individual seeking hormones, but he’s 14 and lives in a very religious Philippine household only 2 generations in the U.S. In John’s case this means his family has rather rigid traditional values and is highly religious; something that is worrying for his circumstances. It also just so happens that his mother is single, taking care of him and 2 other siblings with a job only paying about $10 dollars an hour in Philadelphia.
Because she can’t afford personal devices for three kids the only computer in his house sits in the living room. It was just running windows 7 for 5 years and this free upgrade was well received by his mother because after all it’s free and it’s new.
Now consider what would happen if John were to google in the brief tiny bit of privacy he has, “how to come out to my parents” on that family computer. Per his mother’s very fast “use express settings” choice, this windows setup screen would allow his search to get sent off to windows for processing, and to be taken advantage of, then sent back upon his family computer for all of the features windows offers to cater all future search results, products, and services to his recent declaration of wanting to come out… Problem no?
2. Setting up the Microsoft account.
Now let’s say that John’s mother read the form and decided that this infringed too much on her privacy. She then said no, and proceeded through advanced setup to find a lot of disturbingly vague questions about location settings, using calendar, contacts, and literally every keyboard input to “make the system better” that would have been on had she said yes. Even if she navigated through this entire vague legal hubbub and came out with some privacy control, the next thing she would run into causing problems for her blossoming yet closeted Trans* kid is on the very next page of setup! The option to create a windows account for her kids and then limit, view, and manage what internet access John might have.
Why is this a problem?
The problem is, even if having an account is “optional” according to our friendly geek guide on installing windows ten, “We’d recommend using a Microsoft account because otherwise you won’t be able to use half of the new features…” If John’s mother signs up for this Microsoft account, simply rinse and repeat the problems described in part 1.
But wait! Having a Microsoft account doesn’t mean the end of john’s world right?! I mean, once you set up an account john’s mother would create accounts for all of her children to independently use. Wrong.
John’s mother is a master on the account allowing her to set privacy rights for all of the sub accounts she makes for her children. That means that in addition to straight up restricting him from finding resources on the system, she can also view his histories, and even completely remove his access to the actual computer console…pretty much indefinitely. One false move and he’s as alienated as Leelah Alcorn was.
3. Using Cortana
Once setup has finished forcing you to allow Microsoft into your house like a vampire in the dead of medieval night, and your parents have created a full-proof filter for you not to get the resources you need, the next part of Setup is what all of this has all been for: Cortana.
Cortana is basically the windows equivalent of Siri or Iris on your mobile device and unfortunately with Microsoft’s Famous privacy exploitation tricks, it spells bad news for LGBT+ people who are closeted or otherwise. They even wrapped Cortana’s privacy issues into a nice handy little FAQ for us too.
First off, in order for Cortana to work after you leave setup, if you turned off any of the settings in the advanced setup instead of choosing express (problem 1), Cortana will ask you to turn them back on again and she requires a windows account. Seeming as Cortana is one of the biggest features in windows 10 and we are so very used to the wonderful features and assistance of Siri, and Iris (who have their own privacy and security risks) most people will indeed opt to do so.
So what is the problem?
Harkening back to the first example, john searches in Cortana’s bar “how to come out to my parents”, Cortana will then remember this search and attempt to “personalize searches” in the future and offering that data to the Microsoft account to display when his mother looks at it. Additionally there is no way to “go stealth” in Cortana’s bar like with private browsers, so wiping the history from her is quite difficult and out of the way (you have to go to Bing to do this and it’s a convoluted process).
In combination with the Microsoft account recording his every actions John has officially been outed because his mother was all too curious as to what he was doing talking all night with his friends at school, or because a sibling logged on to his account, or he forgot to log out, or he forgot to use a private browser, or because he used Cortana at all in the first place.
4. Windows Edge
If this is getting a little repetitive I totally understand because it is. Every little windows 10 “feature” compounds on itself to make life absurdly difficult for John, but go with me on this.
Internet browsers, no matter what browser you use (possible exception in Firefox), make it difficult to keep your privacy safe, but with Microsoft’s replacement to internet explorer (in name only it seems) it gets worse.
To begin, by default, your privacy settings on Microsoft’s new Edge browser are as open as possible. If john were to use the default browser it would save all of his form entries, retain all of his browser histories, cookies, and other data, page prediction would be on (using prior page visits to determine where you’ll go in the future), and sending ‘do not track requests” would be off meaning sites outside of Microsoft could track his movements and advertise their own relevant materials rather in-depth. If Cortana was already enabled in the system it is now fully integrated into edge as well giving that same repetitive compounding of problems for him.
Why is this a problem?
Do we need to go through this again? The problem is basically that the browser is allowing every service ever to say, “Oh your coming out? Looks like you’re gay!!! Here have pride advertisements from all over the country for the next week!”
5. Multi-Device Interfaces – OneDrive, Xbox,
your phone, and tablets
Even if using the OS on your computer isn’t bad enough, consider those moments when you are using a second device. For closeted LGBT+ teens, phones are really the most secure things they have at their fingertips and now with the compounding effects of privacy violations that can easily be done by your siblings, parents, or Microsoft and other corporations, by the proliferation of the Microsoft account, and Microsoft’s OneDrive program, Windows 10 makes that phone just at risk of hurting you as your computer does.
The whole point of a Microsoft account is to make it easy for you to access everything you need over a variety of devices to have it at any time. This isn’t old hat because Dropbox, Google, Facebook, and many other organizations are trying to make the multi-device realm work as seamlessly as possible. After all that means you’re buying more devices and tying in more services.
They simply aren’t as secure. Xbox’s OneDrive and Microsoft account can be accessed by your siblings with a few touches of a button to sign in to a specific account. Windows 10 and the Microsoft account have now migrated all they know over to that system so if john, were to begin researching how to come out to his parents again, it would be game over on a game console. At least google has the decency to keep it PC for the most part. (Sorry for the puns, but I hoped to lighten the oppressive mood.)
Throughout this article there was a lot of pressure on windows 10 and it’s the new device on the field so it needs to be said that the service is dangerous for those who are just questioning their identities, are stealth, or closeted due to a wide variety of circumstances. Most people will say in defense though, “well google does that too” and “well that’s the way the world is right now”. Well, to them I say this is a terrible defense.
Yes google is doing it too, and net neutrality is an important factor in the safety of the LGBT+ community as a result. If we want a secure, anonymous, and un-pressured LGBT+ community who can come in to their own without fear, we need social media platforms, OS software, private accounts, and communities built to reduce their anxieties and hurdles; not increase their restrictions.
I saw a recent web comic from everyday feminism talking about how the traditional idea of a person taking 1 of 2 roads to decide who they were going to be was false and our life changes decisions are more like an ocean of currents. Our decisions are effected by the services, platforms, conversation, society, and traditions around us. We can’t close off an invisible LGBT+ member’s secure, private, and anonymous exploration simply because we want our computers to remind us everything, or because our parents are worried about the internet they quite frankly can’t control in the first place, or because Microsoft wants us to.
Want to do something about it?
5 things you can do to maintain your privacy right now:
- Opt for a more secure OS system like Linux Mint
- Use Firefox, a non-profit run browser with net
neutrality, privacy and security in mind
- Learn how to set up windows 10 in a more
- Learn how to browse the
web safely with this-info graphic –>
- Sign up for our 100% anonymous weekly digest so
you don’t have to risk outing yourself to find resources
***This post has been cross-posted from the Trans* Youth Channel blog and is Samantha’s original work.
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