Sunday, August 31, 2014

My Experience with a Windows Phone--and Subsequent Invasion into my Personal Life by Microsoft

When my last phone, an Android, got accidentally laundered when I forgot to take it out of my pants pocket, of course the phone came out of the washer dead and unrevivable. Looking through reviews for cheap phones, the Nokia Lumia 520/521 had positive experiences listed on several sites, so that's what I went with. While I saw that it was a "Windows" operating system, I didn't realize what that meant, nor how fundamentally different it was from the Android system. Not only was the interface completely different, but the phone is locked down in different ways that prevent users from creatively interacting with their purchased device outside of the tight grip of Microsoft surveillance and control. For example, with my Android phone, I was able to root it and side-load apps. For the uninitiated, this means that, rather than going to Google Play, or other "approved" sites, and logging in with my contact information (which includes my phone number, credit card, etc), I could download apps anonymously and install them manually on my phone. While this may seem like an unimportant feature to a youth cohort who seems to have no concept of privacy, for those of us old enough to have experienced "life before the internet," and who have read Foucault, it seems only intuitive for us that it's no corporation's or government's business what we do with our own private property, including our phones.

My personal response to the many ways that my new Windows phone was locked down and fundamentally connected to the Microsoft surveillance system, was to delete every app that I didn't absolutely need, and shut down everything else--I kept the text function, and phone calls, that's about it. The lockout of side-loading, and the inability to do anything without being formally connected to the Microsoft system was similarly frustrating, and felt incredibly invasive. But even prior to learning about those privacy issues, my very first experience was traumatizing, when I learned that the Windows system was fundamentally incapable of importing my previous phone information from Android (actually I had installed Cyanogenmod)--therefore, I lost ALL of my contacts and text messages in the phone switch. Less than a year after I purchased the phone, the buttons stopped working. This information transfer problem was compounded when I wanted to ditch the Windows phone to go back to Android, and again, NOTHING could be transferred. Web page after Web page, and phone call after phone call to help desks to the various relevant companies, said the same thing--Windows Phone doesn't have a way to export text messages to be saved onto your computer.

In my exploration for options to save my text messages, the closest option I found was to "sync" my phone with "the cloud." Given that I grew up with a phone attached to the wall with a cord, and we carried our information around on floppy disks, where clouds meant rain, and water destroys floppy disks, I have an inherent distrust of mixing my digital information with "clouds," not to mention the utter lack of privacy or digital safety when my personal information is stored on a remote server--especially one operated by Microsoft, the #1 practice target for hackers. Because of this lack of trust, as well as a refusal to assist the various corporations of the world to piece together my complete biography and daily movements via my phone, I do not have a "microsoft" account where my information is cloud-stored. Of course, without this account, I was unable to download ANY apps to my smart phone, as previously mentioned, already inherently limiting the utility of the device. But in this emergency situation, where the only possible way to save my text messages was to sync them to Microsoft cloud, I began the journey into invasiveness.

First, in order to create this e-mail account (a account), I had to hand over to them "other" completely irrelevant personal information--like my phone number, another e-mail number, my birthdate, gender, etc. Suddenly my ONE e-mail link to Microsoft became FIVE personal links. I googled the phone number of an enemy, and gave them that phone number. Then I created a bogus account with yahoo that I would only use for this one-time event. And just in case they were recording my IP address to get my home address, I used TOR Browser, which gave them an IP address in the Netherlands. Of course Yahoo also now demands a phone number and alternate e-mail--more fake information was supplied to fulfill their demands.

Second, once you create the account, Microsoft doesn't let you use your new account. In order to make sure that your supplied phone and email aren't fakes, you have to go to that alternate email to get a special code they send to that email, before Microsoft will let you do anything with the Live account, which contains several online Microsoft Office software, such as Outlook, OneNote, Excel, etc. In order to save my text messages, I had to sync my phone with this online version of Outlook. Much to my chagrin, this feature of Outlook, where you could then obtain your phone text messages, had been removed!!! After more Googling, the process was still in Outlook, but hidden. So with some convoluted fixes to the "options" button, I was finally able to get ONLY the last 2 weeks of text messages, which could not be mass selected for copying to a text file--not even entire conversations could be selected. They could only be opened one message at a time and copy/pasted into a document. Regardless, nothing interesting happened in my life during the previous 2 weeks, and since the prior 8 months of texts were ultimately unavailable, the entire day's effort was wasted and all of my previous information was lost. The exception was my contacts--this process allowed all of my contacts to be "synced" to the "cloud," but I couldn't do anything else with them except manually type them into the new phone. The help desk for my phone company, however, had an alternative solution--link the old and new phones together using bluetooth, and export each contact ONE AT A TIME. That was eventually what I had to do to save my contacts.

At this point I was done with Microsoft and wanted to erase the tracks I had created on their databases. I had already killed my fake Yahoo account that I had supplied to Microsoft to open the Microsoft account. Now that I wanted to delete my Microsoft Live account as well, I was faced with yet another invasive roadblock--even though I had supplied the appropriate password to get into my Microsoft Live account, they would not let me get into the area of my Live account where I could cancel the account, without sending ANOTHER security code to the stored alternative e-mail address to verify my identity!!! Since I had already killed that account, I had to create a second fake yahoo account to receive my security code. However, Microsoft had installed a 30-day waiting period between switching alternate e-mail accounts--they would not send my security code to my new alternate e-mail since I was within that 30-day window (this was within about a 12-hour period). This feature prevents me from doing ANYTHING on the Live account now that I had attempted to switch e-mails within that 30-day period, unless I re-verify myself from that old e-mail address that I had already terminated. So not only was I forced to create this Microsoft account linked to my personal phone in my attempt to export my personal text messages to my computer, but I was forced to give invasive personal information and unrelated user accounts, now they were preventing me from terminating the account!!!

I'm sure, to anybody younger than 25, I sound like the archetypal old man with his cane who yells "get off my lawn you darned kids," on the one hand, or on the other, the crazies who build nuclear shelter bunkers in their backyards. But this invasiveness, just to use a phone, is unacceptable. The ways that our personal lives are being forced to be connected into corporate databases is unacceptable. Humans are not commodities, nor is our information, or personal communications. In the college classes I teach, where I require a research project, students often choose to look at the impact of social media, and are astonished to discover that graduates personal social media information is available to employers and possible employers--those pictures of you throwing up at a frat party are in "the cloud" and when you submit job applications, human resources offices check that cloud for reasons why you shouldn't be a part of that company. What astonishes me, is that anybody is astonished that when you put your entire life into public domain and into the hands of corporations, that it can have tremendously negative impacts on your private life.