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TL v65n3: Technology
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Viewpoint: Technology

David Ratledge 


Technology and Privacy

David Ratledge

Technology brings with it many wondrous capabilities and features. It has a darker side however when it comes to matters of privacy. This is nothing new as we all know, but it seems of late that the situation continues to worsen instead of improve.

Of particular concern currently is Microsoft’s recent release of the Windows 10 operating system. I have been looking forward to this release for some time and have been excited that it, unlike Windows 8, appears to be a viable upgrade to Windows 7. I still like Windows 7 and am not in a rush to move away from it, but if Windows 10 did not pan out as a good option it would eventually be a problem, as Microsoft will one day drop support for it.

There are many articles appearing online now about the problems of privacy with Windows 10 so I will not go into the details here. Suffice it to say that Windows 10 gathers and reports on more user information, and makes it harder and less obvious how to stop it from doing so, than any previous version of Windows. Perhaps I should not be surprised as this is just the end result of an already established trend by Microsoft and other technology corporations. Given the now-common knowledge, however, of how much users do not want this, I am particularly bothered that Microsoft did not take advantage of the release of their new operating system to address some of these concerns and perhaps increase consumer trust in technology and technology corporations. Windows 8 was definitely not a success story so Microsoft needs a win with Windows 10. What better way to do this and ensure its adoption than to please customers by positively addressing a big glaring issue that otherwise gives customers a reason to turn away?

I do get they do it because knowledge is power and all that. Information gleaned from technology product users has monetary value and money is what corporations, technology types or otherwise, are about. I do not hold this against them as. it is an intrinsic part of their nature and a necessary part of what allows them to develop and provide the technology they provide. As a librarian I am especially sensitive to matters of privacy though, as I not only spend time looking after my own but also the privacy of the users of my library. It increasingly feels like we are all information crops planted in a field, helpless to do anything but seek the sun, grow, and dream our dreams while waiting for the harvest. This is not how we should feel in regard to matters of privacy.

To Microsoft’s credit, they do make it possible to disable a great deal of the information gathering that is enabled by default. They did not have to build this in, but they did, and we should all be very thankful for it. I am certain, however, they are expecting the average user to not know or care enough about it to change any of the settings. For my personal privacy, I do care and will turn off a great deal of the information gathering and reporting in Window 10 whenever I upgrade. As library staff, we need to be sure and do the same on behalf of our users if and when we deploy Windows 10 onto computers for their use. We will have to make some decisions, however, as some of the changes that increase privacy also modify or disable new and useful features like Cortana, the new “digital assistant.”

This touches on another interesting aspect of privacy and technology. Technology corporations alone are not responsible for the problems. It actually begins with the consumers of technology products, people like us and the institutions where we work, in other words. I do not know, for example, how I moved around in the world before, without a phone having Google Maps and GPS, but the price of having and using this technology is that I am making available to the technology and anyone that has access to it, legitimately or otherwise, my exact location at any given moment. Earlier in life I was very careful to not let even my own mother know this kind of detailed location information about me, yet now I give little thought to who might know it as long as I am getting what I want out of the technology.

Is this a sign that the issue is slowly working itself out by changing how we feel about privacy? Will we in the end decide that giving away most if not all of our privacy is an acceptable price to pay for the technology we want? Or will we eventually rebel, throw our technology out the window, and revert back to simpler days? So far, using myself as a guide, giving away privacy is winning over giving up the advantages technology provides me. Time will tell what our final answer as a society is, but until then we should be vigilant about how technology affects matters of privacy, be willing to identify and change settings with the intent of finding a reasonable compromise, and even be willing to consider not adopting a technology at all if it goes too far.



David Ratledge is Associate Professor and Coordinator of Technology Infrastructure at The University of Tennessee Libraries, Knoxville. He can be reached at




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