6/23/2006

Freedom, Privacy, WGA and more

We Americans live in a society that is based largely on the ideals of our forefathers - ideals that have survived the test of time. Those ideals include life, liberty, individualism, and the right to privacy, among others.

We all know that during times of national threat or war that sometimes these privacy rights must be partially abrogated. With the attacks of 9/11/2001, the rules had to be changed and this has caused significant controversy among Americans.

I for one, am glad that I am not an ATT customer - but I'm also fearful that other providers may follow. Essentially "Ma" just said "All your phone records are belong to us".

It's not that they suddenly decided to change their policies about customer data - they haven't changed a thing! All they've done is put it in writing to help prevent themselves from being successfully sued.

I realize that information about me that I do not wish to have disseminated without my consent is distributed anyway, and in some cases this is done for profit - again, without my consent and often without even my knowledge. Much of this information has nothing at all to do with helping to defend against the threat of terrorism. It didn't have anything to do with it before 9/11, and it doesn't have anything to do with it now.

Almost every piece of personal information that Americans try to keep secret -- including bank account statements, e-mail messages and telephone records -- is semi-public and available for sale.

That was the lesson Congress learned over the last week during a series of hearings aimed at exposing peddlers of personal data, from whom banks, car dealers, jealous lovers and even some law enforcement officers have covertly purchased information to use as they wish. Rep. Ed Whitfield, Chairman of the panel's oversight subcommittee, described a multimillion dollar industry that sells cell phone records for $200, Social Security information for $60 and a student's university class schedule for $80.

Most often, the customers are banks or financial institutions attempting to locate absconding debtors. But law enforcement officers -- including those in the Department of Homeland Security, FBI and Police Departments -- have used the services on occasion. The problem has been that data brokers often have obtained information by deception, and they did not monitor to whom they were selling or how the data was used.

If there is one thing that really pisses me off, its deceptive marketing that cloaks an inner purpose that hasn't been disclosed. I feel that the WGA (Windows Genuine Advantage) program smacks of this aura. We only found out recently that the WGA "Security Patch" (yes, that's essentially how it was marketed to you) "phones home" every day at boot time.

Mind you, I have no issue with helping Microsoft or any other company protect against piracy of their legitimate corporate assets (Windows the OS for example). However, let me just remind you that you had to put your Product ID in when you installed the product, and it already phoned home at that time to validate it. Shouldn't that be sufficient?

At any rate, I suspect this is just one of those annoyances that fall into the category of "you can't do much about it" other than "Bitch".


If you find the WGA practice annoying as I do, there is something you can do to "have your cake and eat it, too". "RemoveWGA" is a free tool that disables the daily "phone home" feature, but still leaves the functionality intact that allows legitimate Windows owners to download Microsoft software that requires the WGA authentication process.

I understand that future versions of WGA are supposed to only "phone home" every two weeks. That's not the point. Nobody ever told me it was going to phone home; I never agreed to it, and

I DON'T WANT IT TO PHONE HOME AT ALL.

Got it?

I see where the same lawyers who sued Sony BMG over Rootkits on music CDs, and Ubisoft for Starforce on its game disks are now taking on Microsoft. But think about it for a minute - isn't WGA around because the basic Activation process when you first install the OS is flawed? Wouldn't it be better if only the pirated copies of Windows did the phoning home, instead of all of them? I just think the whole scheme is ill-conceived.

Now, if I can just find software that will :

1) Block out my credit history and allow ME to control who gets access to my personal information.
2) Prevent people from using my Social Security Number to access information about me.
3) Force companies to disclose to me UP FRONT exactly what they or their software is going to do related to privacy issues, as a REQUIREMENT OF THE LAW, with stiff, REAL PENATIES for non-compliance.

Then I think we will have made a step in the right direction!


"There are no necessary evils in government. Its evils exist only in its abuses." -- Andrew Jackson