Computer systems have become so integrated into our daily lives that it’s nearly impossible not to use them. Many household devices, such as thermostats, stoves, and washing machines all have embedded computer systems controlling them. With the world around us becoming more and more connected, it’s not hard to imagine a future where all of your devices are always communicating with each other. A future where all your devices form a smart home and everything you need is at your fingertips. But what is the cost of such a future? I’m not referring to the monetary cost of such a system. I’m referring to the costs of giving up your privacy and digital freedoms in order to make it all work.

Consider Windows 8, for example, which allows you to log in with an internet-based Windows Live Account. The idea is that you can use your Windows Live Account to log into any Windows 8 computer, and all your information will be available to you. You’ll have access to all your photos, documents, and apps. Even your start screen will look the same. It will also let you keep any of the Windows computers you own in sync.

To be able to maintain a consistent environment across your Windows-based devices, all your data has to be stored on Microsoft’s servers. If you choose to log in without a Windows Live Account, your data will only remain on your computer. Since certain features still require you to use a Windows Live Account, it’s not far-fetched to think that the next version of Windows will require a Windows Live Account for everything, and will not allow you to log in without one at all.

Google and Apple also require accounts on their systems to use their computers and mobile devices. The implications of requiring accounts mean that unless you are willing to install another operating system like Ubuntu, the only choice you have is who you trust more with your data: Microsoft, Google, or Apple?

If you do not wish to make this choice, installing another operating system may not be so easy. Microsoft, for example, requires UEFI Secure Boot to be enabled on Windows 8 computers that ship from manufacturers. There is no requirement that states that manufacturers must provide a way to disable Secure Boot. If Secure Boot can’t be disabled, you can’t install anything that Microsoft hasn’t allowed. If you want to install a non-Microsoft operating system on the computer that you bought, you should have no restriction in doing so.

Your digital freedom is important to maintain your digital lifestyle. Unfortunately, sometimes your digital freedom’s can be eroded by new technology as a side effect of new features.


This article first appeared in Memorial University’s student newspaper: The Muse February 21, 2013

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