Black Friday

Microsoft Defends Windows 10 Privacy

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

September 29, 2015

Ever since its release back in July, Windows 10 has given privacy advocates the butterflies. This is particularly true of its Bing and Cortana services, which collect a great deal of personal information about you in order to provide a highly personalised experience. Microsoft’s automatic collection of telemetry data (for troubleshooting purposes) has also caused concern.

Many users may be happy with the trade-off between privacy and convenience using these services brings, but the sheer amount of information that Microsoft can collect about you is disturbing, especially when you consider that, as Ars Technica discovered, even when Windows 10 privacy settings have been set to maximum, personal information is still sent to Microsoft!

In a surprise blog post yesterday, Microsoft’s Executive Vice President of the Windows and Devices Group, Terry Myerson, attempted to address users’ privacy concerns. What the post does, however, is largely reiterate Microsoft’s existing privacy policy,

From the very beginning, we designed Windows 10 with two straightforward privacy principles in mind:

  1. Windows 10 collects information so the product will work better for you.
  2. You are in control with the ability to determine what information is collected.

Myerson argues that the data collection Microsoft performs is justified because  it allows Windows to offer the cool services that it does (such as Cortana knowing which Sports team you support in order to deliver you breaking news, or telemetry collection being used to diagnose  a graphics driver problem so that Microsoft can rapidly roll out a fix).

The problem here, however, is that users have little or no control over what information Microsoft knows. Taking a not-so-subtle swing at Google, Meyerson notes that,

Unlike some other platforms, no matter what privacy options you choose, neither Windows 10 nor any other Microsoft software scans the content of your email or other communications, or your files, in order to deliver targeted advertising to you.

What he does not mention, however, is data collected by Cortana, Bing searches, your Calendar, and more, which by Microsoft’s silence on the matter we can presume are fair game to be mined for personal information, which will be used to profile you for highly targeted advertising.

One interesting nugget of information in the article is that,

“Our enterprise feature updates later this year will enable enterprise customers the option to disable this telemetry, but we strongly recommend against this.

This feature already exists in the Enterprise version of Windows 10 (but not in the Home or Pro versions), and so therefore rather ambiguous. It does, however, highlight another problem.  Meyers states that,

“With Windows 10, information we collect is encrypted in transit to our servers, and then stored in secure facilities.

So sure, your data is safe from hackers (probably). However, not only does this offer little in the way of reassurance for those who do not 100% trust Microsoft, but it means that information (such as telemetry data) is open to subpoena/ court order demands.

Much of the information collected is supposedly anonymised, but it has been proved time and again that such techniques are far from reliable.

One piece of genuinely good news, however, is that the new Windows will not continue to email parents detailed reports of what their children get up to online by default, a feature that has caused considerable controversy.

We will see how Microsoft adapts to continued criticisms over privacy in Windows 10, but we have certainly not been won over by the rather lightweight assertion that it is doing nothing wrong.

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