Thursday, February 6, 2020

Wacom Tablets Track Every App You Open

Robert Heaton (tweet, Hacker News):

But Wacom’s request made me pause. Why does a device that is essentially a mouse need a privacy policy? I wondered. Sensing skullduggery, I decided to make an exception to my anti-privacy-policy-policy and give this one a read.

In Wacom’s defense (that’s the only time you’re going to see that phrase today), the document was short and clear, although as we’ll see it wasn’t entirely open about its more dubious intentions (here’s the full text). In addition, despite its attempts to look like the kind of compulsory agreement that must be accepted in order to unlock the product behind it, as far as I can tell anyone with the presence of mind to decline it could do so with no adverse consequences.


Some of the events that Wacom were recording were arguably within their purview, such as “driver started” and “driver shutdown”. I still don’t want them to take this information because there’s nothing in it for me, but their attempt to do so feels broadly justifiable. What requires more explanation is why Wacom think it’s acceptable to record every time I open a new application, including the time, a string that presumably uniquely identifies me, and the application’s name.

Update (2020-02-14): Malcolm Owen:

Wacom has responded to allegations drivers for its tablet line are collecting data on its users and passing it on to Google, including the names of macOS applications being used, by claiming it has no access to personal data and what data it collects is anonymized before it is seen by the company.

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> What requires more explanation is why Wacom think it’s acceptable
> to record every time I open a new application

Knowing what applications people use their tablets with, and how frequently they use these apps, is clearly very useful information for Wacom. It allows them to test their drivers with the apps their users actually use. Also, I don't think the Wacom driver currently ships with application-specific predefined settings, but that seems like a logical thing to add to their driver, and you'd need this kind of information to do this.

This is still a very bad idea, particularly given that the uploaded data is tied to a user id, and the fact that we have now found out that any data that is collected about people will eventually be shared outside of their original confines, and be used against the people in the data set, but I don't think it's unclear why Wacom would find this data useful.

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