HP computers and data privacy and spying

I have an older HP desktop computer. I’ve long observed significant slow downs as various background tasks were underway and I had assumed it was just anti-virus software running in the background. But it was not – instead, the HP Support Assistance was frequently scanning the entire system, using 55% of the CPU and hogging the disk input/output, tremendously slowing down the system. I finally disabled the HP software as I had never seen any value from it.

Then I went to read the HP Privacy policy (which may be different today from what it was when I bought the computer years ago).

(Click on any image to read the full size screen capture of the HP privacy policy).

In addition to the data collected by HP, HP also “deduces” attributes about you, and collects data when you use social media logins to access anything. This means when you log in to a site using your Facebook login, data about your visit is collected by Facebook and shared with Facebook’s partners (which is literally the entire world).

HP remotely spies on your use of HP printers, collecting a database of pages printed, type of print media used, what ink you are using, including what brand of ink, and the names of the applications from which you print.

HP also purchases information from third party data services, social media networks and advertising networks. Ad networks are used to track every web site you visit online. HP uses this, as they disclose, to get your name, address, “preferences, interests and certain demographic data”. Clearly, HP is buying data about us from Facebook, Google and Twitter.

This example illustrates the pervasive – and nasty – web of anti-privacy efforts underway by the high tech industry. The entire industry works together to intensely monitor, intercept and collect enormous quantities of data about every one of us. Further, they use automated software systems to analyze and interpret this data to then draw inferences about us.

A previous post on my SocialPanic.org blog found that inferences made by Facebook and Twitter were completely wrong – but there is no way to correct that. In most cases there is no way to know what inferences companies like HP have made about us.)

What Can You Do?

  • Delete the HP support assistant. I have found no value from having run it on this computer for many years. Optionally, disable it in the Windows Task Scheduler so it does not run.
  • Delete or disable other software that you do not need or us.
  • Do not use social media logins to web sites other than the social media web site.
  • Use privacy enhanced browsing to minimize tracking across the web. First, never use Chrome. Google logs every web site you visit. Use the Epic Privacy Browser or use Mozilla Firefox with the Privacy Badger and Ghostery plug ins. Use the Cookie-AutoDelete plugin to automatically remove tracking cookies when leaving a web site (you can optionally “white list” web sites so that cookies and logins remain active, if you wish).
  • The Epic Privacy Browser includes access to a proxy server to hide your IP address from web sites.
  • When using mobile phones, note that operating systems such as Android always track your location if Location Services is enabled (such as using mapping). Most people leave Location Services on all the time, and Google uses that to build a database of everywhere you travel and every place you visit. Google also records information about WiFi networks and Bluetooth devices within range of your phone. Even when location services is turned off, WiFi access points and even some Bluetooth devices can reveal your location anyway. Disabling WiFi and Bluetooth will reduce this data collection.

The tech industry has been operating in a free wheeling, Orwellian 1984 world of intense spying on everyone who uses online services including web sites, monitoring our email communications, our social media Likes, every where we travel, and even monitoring our use of home printers.

Automobiles are also now collecting information about our use of the vehicles, including our driving habits and locations visited.

They argue that if we don’t like this, then we should not use online services or we should not use printers or we should not drive a car. These arguments are wholly unrealistic.

Yet most people seem oblivious to this: Facebook has been widely exposed as a massive global surveillance network and propaganda platform – yet financial analysts say they see little harm to Facebook’s business as few seem to care.

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