Windows 10 isn’t spyware but it wants your data
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GEOFFREY A. FOWLERTHE WALL STREET JOURNALAUGUST 06, 2015 11:26AM
We’re used to talking about how Facebook and Google
use our personal data. But Microsoft Windows has long been an island of disconnect from the internet
economy, for better or worse. It was simply an operating system for running software
made by others.
Now, Windows 10 goes further than any past PC operating system to incorporate the internet
, allowing us to do things like speak to the Cortana virtual assistant, store files in the cloud, log in quickly to Wi-Fi networks, and stay protected from new cyberthreats. But these capabilities also mean Microsoft has never been more interested in collecting — and building businesses around — our personal data.
But let’s be clear: Microsoft made Windows 10 a free upgrade because it has the explicit goal of making money
from internet services, ads, apps and games that run on it. Microsoft’s financial people call this new business model “customer lifetime value” — they don’t want to make money
just when you buy a new PC, but on an ongoing basis. Microsoft made $US3.6 billion from search engine
advertising last year. They’re not selling our data, but they’re certainly making use of it.
Any information shared with Microsoft is at your discretion — we will not collect information without your permission,” says a Microsoft spokesman.
That’s good to hear, but many of Microsoft’s data collection systems are turned on by default. Opting out requires knowing where to look, and disabling some of the features in Windows 10.
What you can do about it
The most active data collector is Cortana, the virtual assistant. She tracks your Web searches and looks through your email to learn your tastes and schedule. Much of this is information is stored in an editable Notebook, available inside Cortana when you click on the button with a square-and-circle icon. Information is also stored by Microsoft’s Bing search engine
, whose memory you can clear by tapping Settings, then “Manage what Cortana knows about me in the cloud” or by going to bing.com/account/personalization.
Microsoft says it protects the data Cortana collects about us using “a variety of security
technologies and procedures” including encrypting it while in transit to Microsoft’s computers
. But the company may share some of your data if it is compelled to by law enforcement or government
If you don’t want Microsoft in your personal life, you can choose not to link Windows 10 to a Microsoft account. (During setup, when you’re asked for your Microsoft login, instead look for “Create a new account” and “Sign in without a Microsoft account.”) The Windows 10 search bar will still work, but Cortana won’t be around to help without a Microsoft account. Updates to Windows and Defender, the built-in antivirus, will still come through.
Even if you don’t log in to Windows with a Microsoft account, Windows 10 may collect data in numerous other ways. In particular, the new Edge browser defaults to Microsoft’s Bing search engine, which tracks some activity (anonymously, if you’re not logged in) and attempts to serve personalised ads. You can opt out of the ad tracking by going to choice.microsoft.com. Edge also does page prediction, which pre-loads your likely next click. You can turn that off in Edge’s settings.
Microsoft put a host of other privacy controls in the Windows Settings menu, including Microsoft’s ability to receive and share data about your computer’s unique ID, location, microphone, camera
, even how you write and type. All of these are turned on if you use the “express” setup in Windows 10. You must manually turn off anything you aren’t comfortable with, and in the Settings menu you can also limit the specific applications that have access to those capabilities.
Confused yet? Sites such as fix10.isleaked.com have collected a helpful gallery of all the privacy controls you can adjust.
About that Wi-Fi password sharing tool
There has also been some concern about a Windows 10 feature called Wi-Fi Sense that’s supposed to make it more convenient to join Wi-Fi networks by letting you share passwords with friends. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but you should understand what’s going on.
When you log in to a new Wi-Fi network with Windows 10, it lets you check a box to share the ability to log in with your Outlook.com, Facebook and Skype contacts. When you do that, the password gets stored on an encrypted Microsoft server, where it’s handed off to friends who need it when they’re nearby. Your friends don’t see the passwords — they just get the ability to log in automatically when they are physically nearby. You can stop sharing any particular network inside the Windows Wi-Fi settings.
If you don’t want anybody to be able to store and share the password of your own home network, type it into your friends’ computers yourself and turn off the share checkbox. You can also completely avoid Wi-Fi Sense sharing by adding “_opt out” to your network’s name.
No doubt, Windows 10 is a new approach for Microsoft. And like anything else “free” on the Web, it puts the responsibility for vigilance squarely on us. We all need to decide how much we allow our data to become part of the product, and what we get in exchange.
This article was first published in The Wall Street Journal.