Which OS is optimal for your privacy?
March 10, 2021 · written by Maxime Desalle
In this blog post, we will explore these three operating systems and see which one fits best according to your threat model.
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You probably know 2 and maybe 3 OSes: Windows, MacOS and Linux (which is actually an ecosystem of operating systems).
The first one is horrible for your privacy, and has an acceptable user experience. The second one is somewhat good for your privacy, and has a great user experience. The third one is great for your privacy, and has a horrible user experience.
Windows has the advantage of being accessible on affordable machines, unlike MacOS which you can only find on Apple computers. The problem with Windows is that the company behind it is at its core a data company. Using your data, Microsoft is able to design better and better products and services which they can monetize through their famous licenses.
Another problem with Windows is its inherent lack of security. Using an antivirus software is considered vital by a lot of people in the cybersecurity industry when using Windows. But as hundreds of viruses are created every single day, this makes it a pretty bad option in terms of security, even with an antivirus software.
Here are some of the privacy-related problems Windows 10 has:
By default, Microsoft turns your computer into a peer-to-peer node to help it distribute Windows 10 updates, in order to save Microsoft server bandwidth costs.
Windows 10 Home is permanently set to download all updates automatically, including cumulative updates, security patches, and drivers, and users cannot individually select updates to install or not.
If you still want to use Windows or if you don’t have the choice (for work for example), feel free to take a look at this tool which attempts to remove as much trackers as possible from Windows: https://github.com/bitlog2/DisableWinTracking (technical knowledge is required).
Apple products aren’t ideal in terms of privacy. They push their users to use Apple ID, which allows them to collect data using that unique identifier. Because of that, it is recommended to avoid using any Apple service, including the App Store. This will allow you to bypass the need for an Apple ID.
With the Apple ID on the side, MacOS is really great. It’s highly secure, at least compared to Windows. And Apple has every reason to protect your privacy as their brand is their most profitable asset. If it were to be revealed that Apple sells data about its users, their brand would immediately lose a lot of its potential and this would be reflected in the sales numbers of their products. Because of that, they have every reason to live up to what they are saying they do.
MacOS has the advantage of having a (warning: highly subjective topic) better user experience, generally speaking, than Windows. And in contrast with the latter, you can use virtual machines on MacOS to still have access to Windows. This isn’t doable (except if you are into “shady” things of course) on Windows as Apple doesn’t like that apparently.
Linux isn’t really an operating system. It’s more like an ecosystem of different operating systems with each have their own differentiators. These operating systems are called distributions. There are countless distributions, from the traditional ones like Ubuntu or Fedora, to the more exotic ones like Tails or Whonix (these two are widely used to access the dark web), or even Qubes which is considered by many as the most secure operating system in the world.
The reason why so many Linux distributions exist is simply because the Linux community is driven by the love for open-source. This is also why Ubuntu and Debian (another distribution) are fairly similar, as Ubuntu is in fact based on Debian.
Linux requires some technical know-how, and compared to MacOS, it doesn’t just work out of the box. You will need to configure things, browse the internet to figure out why some app has a bug, etc. It’s definitely not a fitted for the average user. Additionally, while there are a lot of great open-source apps, the user experience can be a problem on Linux. Again, it doesn’t work out of the box like MacOS does.
Which one should you chose?
Simply put, it all depends on 1. your threat model, and 2. your technical know-how. If you are looking to protect yourself from Big Tech for example, you should probably look into Linux. If you are simply trying to protect yourself from regular companies harvesting your data, MacOS is fine.
On the other side, technical knowledge is required for Linux. If you don’t know what the Terminal is, or how to use it, don’t even bother looking into it. As a former Linux user, I can guarantee you will be using it a lot (which isn’t necessarily a problem for most users).
Choosing which OS you are using is one of the most important steps in your quest to living a more private digital life, aside from the establishment of your threat model. Choose carefully, and above all, enjoy. The need for privacy shouldn’t limit your passions and interests, after all.