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Wacom Tablets Quietly Track Every App You Open

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Wacom tablets are popular among photographers who prefer using a pen to a mouse when retouching photos, and Wacom even bundles Photoshop and Lightroom with some of its models to sweeten the package. But if you use a Wacom tablet for your editing work, there’s something you should know: your tablet may be quietly tracking all the apps you open on your computer without you knowing it.

Software engineer Robert Heaton discovered this behavior and just published a report on it after doing some sleuthing. He was curious about his own drawing tablet after installing the drivers required him to accept a privacy policy.

“[…] Wacom’s request made me pause,” Heaton writes. “Why does a device that is essentially a mouse need a privacy policy?”

In Section 3.1 of the company’s privacy policy, it states that by accepting the document, users allow “certain information” to be “automatically collected” through Google Analytics — info such as “aggregate usage data, technical session information and information about Your hardware device.”

But that statement is quite vague, so Heaton decided to investigate what data his tablet collected from him and sent to Wacom. To do so, he set up a proxy server to act as a middleman between Wacom and Google Analytics, snooping on the data being passed between the two.

After some technical puzzle-solving to reveal the encrypted transmissions, Heaton was alarmed by what he saw in the collected data.

“Some of the events that Wacom were recording were arguably within their purview, such as ‘driver started’ and ‘driver shutdown’,” he writes. “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.”

Wacom tablets track the apps you’re using on your computer. Screenshot by Robert Heaton.

So Wacom is actively recording the name of every application you’re using on your computer while your tablet is up and running, and Wacom apparently considers this to be “aggregate usage data, technical session information and information about Your hardware device,” even if those apps have nothing to do with your Wacom tablet.

“It’s well-known that no one reads privacy policies and that they’re often a fig leaf of consent at best,” Heaton writes. “But since Wacom’s privacy policy makes no mention of their intention to record the name of every application I open on my personal laptop, I’d argue that it doesn’t even give them the technical-fig-leaf-right to do so.

“In fact, I’d argue that even if someone had read and understood Wacom’s privacy policy, and had knowingly consented to a reasonable interpretation of the words inside it, that person would still not have agreed to allow Wacom to log and track the name of every application that they opened on their personal laptop.”

And while application names may not feel too intrusive to some people, Heaton points out that there’s definitely the possibility of app names themselves leaking sensitive information about individuals or trade secrets from companies.

As news of Heaton’s discovery spread over the past day, some Wacom owners have been speaking out against the company on social media. Here’s Wacom’s response to a couple of concerned customers:

As you can see, Wacom doesn’t deny that its tablets are tracking your general app usage. Instead, the company explains that you’ve consented to the tracking — presumably by accepting the privacy policy — and that it’s all part of the “Wacom Experience Program.”

If you own a Wacom tablet and don’t want to send this data, open up the Wacom Desktop Center, click More, click Privacy Settings, and deactivate the Wacom Experience Program.

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