Windows 10

Microsoft Says Windows 10 Doesn't Violate User Privacy

Microsoft Says Windows 10 Doesn't Violate User Privacy
Image credit: Microsoft
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Microsoft famously accused Google of "Scroogling" users by selling their private data to advertisers. But when it launched Windows 10, Microsoft was itself roundly criticized for over-zealous personal data collection. Critics say it does things like send parents reports of their kids' PC use, prevent users from opting out of certain types of data collection, and scan PCs for counterfeit software. The software giant has responded to those accusations in a Windows blog post, saying that it only collects data that makes its products work better and that it gives users control over information collected.

Microsoft started by addressing the "telemetry data" it collects when Windows or an app crashes. Company VP Terry Myerson explained that such info "help(s) us provide a secure and reliable experience," and that it "doesn't include any of your content or files, and we take several steps to avoid collecting any information that directly identifies you." He added that the practice has already paid off, helping a Microsoft partner fix a faulty graphics driver within 24 hours.

As for personal data, Microsoft says that it only collects it to "deliver a delightful and personalized Windows experience," to give you updates on scores for your favorite team, for instance. Additional data is collected for features like Cortana because of its nature as a personal assistant. However, Myerson pointed out that you can opt out of collection of speech, typing, location and other activities.

Finally, Redmond insists that "neither Windows 10 nor any other Microsoft software scans the contents of your email or other communications, or your files, in order to deliver targeted advertising." In other words, Microsoft doesn't use Outlook to create targeted advertising, unlike Google's Gmail. As Ars Technica points out, however, the wording seems to indicate that Microsoft reserves the right to collect advertising data via other apps like Bing and Cortana.

So what to make of this? Many of the original accusations were false: MIcrosoft doesn't send your personal files to its servers like torrent sites claim, for instance. Also, it's not new that Microsoft sends parents reports on their kids' surfing activities -- that feature was also available in Windows 8. However, Microsoft promised that it'll update its policies to take your children's ages into account.

As for the collection of crash data, Microsoft didn't address the actual complaint; namely that Windows 10 users can't opt out of telemetry, unlike with previous versions (unless they're a Windows 10 Enterprise licensee). You can, however, adjust the setting from full (the default) to basic, so that you transmit less data to Microsoft. And while the company collects unique user IDs after a crash, it only does so to determine how many users are experiencing an issue. Would it be good to be able to completely opt out of telemetry? Sure! Would you trade that for a potentially more unstable operating environment? Probably not!

Microsoft concluded by saying it's listening to users' privacy concerns, and will update its policies if need be. That's a good start -- they probably don't bother most users, but it needs to better communicate the hows and whys of them. It would do well to keep the dialogue going, especially considering Google's ongoing problems in privacy-mad Europe.