Wacom drawing tablets track the name and time everytime you open an app

Posted on Feb 12, 2020 by Caleb Chen
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wacom drawing tablet spies on you and sends information on apps used to google

Wacom drawing tablets have a dirty little secret – they are likely tracking the name and time of every app you’re opening – and sending that information to Google. The discovery and damning of Wacom’s anti-privacy actions are thanks to one observant Wacom drawing tablet user: Robert Heaton. Heaton used to use a Wacom drawing tablet to illustrate images for his blog, but was curious why the tablet – a glorified mouse pad – came with a privacy policy upon set up. He dug into the privacy policy (full text of Wacom privacy policy available here) and found that section 3.1 included permission for Wacom to send information from the user’s device to Google Analytics. What data you might ask?

“Such information includes aggregate usage data, technical session information and information about Your hardware device.”

The vague language of the privacy policy, which countless people have accepted over the years, had risen the hackles of other privacy conscious users in the past, but Heaton was the first to dig in and find exactly what was being sent. To do so, he used a proxy server, and a lot of ingenuity as the data was encrypted, to be able to find out exactly what his Wacom drawing tablet was sending to Google Analytics. After some digging, he discovered information being sent that may fall under aggregate usage data or technical session information, such as when the Wacom driver was turned on and off. However, the other information being sent led to a poignant question:

“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.”

Fortunately, this behavior can be stopped by the end user. Heaton has some advice for Wacom drawing tablet users, as well as instructions for how to turn off this anti-privacy functionality:

“If you too have a Wacom tablet (presumably this tracking is enabled for all of their models), open up the “Wacom Desktop Center” and click around until you find a way to disable the “Wacom Experience Program”. Then the next time you’re buying a tablet, remember that Wacom tries to track every app you open, and consider giving another brand a go.”

Privacy violations are out there, just waiting to be discovered

Wacom has been violating its users’ privacy for years, and it’s only in 2020 that this was revealed to the wider community – in no small part thanks to the original whistleblower: Robert Heaton. Robert Heaton has since made an impassioned open call for any user of any software or hardware that has suspicions that the device or software might be violating their privacy to send a privacy tip-off to him. While privacy conscious users of Wacom drawing tablets may need to go back to the proverbial drawing board to decide what drawing software and hardware to use in light of this revelation, it’s the thought of people deciding this is normal that gives me pause. How many of Wacom’s users will hear this news and decide a log of every app they use is an acceptable trade off for using a drawing tablet which they’ve already paid for? Companies need to care about privacy from the ground up – and the more noise we as users can make in opposition of such anti-privacy actions, the more likely that is to come to fruition. It’s a long road, but we’ll get there.

Featured image by David Revoy shared via CC By 4.0 Licenese.

About Caleb Chen

Caleb Chen is a digital currency and privacy advocate who believes we must #KeepOurNetFree, preferably through decentralization. Caleb holds a Master's in Digital Currency from the University of Nicosia as well as a Bachelor's from the University of Virginia. He feels that the world is moving towards a better tomorrow, bit by bit by Bitcoin.

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  1. SupraArtist

    I’m glad that I’ve dropped Wacom way before this, then – for different reasons. The thing is that Wacom tablets have a cheesegrater surface that eats pen nibs in a matter of days and the support has nothing to say about that other than “this is how the artists wants them because it feels like a physical medium” – if I wanted something that feels like a physical medium, I’d get a darn pencil and paper and not use a DIGITAL equipment in the first place. Now I’m using Huion tablet and I’m not complaining.

    4 months ago