Microsoft Responds to Windows 10 Privacy Concerns
Windows 10 has come under suspicion of covert privacy invasions since shortly before it was released at the end of August. Most (but not all) of that is overblown hype, so Microsoft is making an effort to clarify the muddy privacy waters. Here's what you need to know…
Windows 10 Privacy - What's the Policy?
On September 28, a full two months after the Windows 10 launch, Microsoft launched a new blog entitled, Privacy and Windows 10. Executive VP of the Windows and Devices Group, Terry Myerson, appears as the first post’s author. He opens with two simple statements about Windows 10 privacy principles:
- Windows 10 collects information so the product will work better for you.
- You are in control with the ability to determine what information is collected.
He also notes that all information collected is encrypted before and during transmission to Microsoft, and is stored in encrypted secure servers. Myerson goes on to discuss three types of data collection and how Windows 10 handles them.
“Safety and reliability data” is all about system or app crashes. This is nothing new; whenever any version of Windows has crashed, users have been asked if they want to send an “error report” to Microsoft. Internet Explorer and many other apps, including non-Microsoft apps, do the same.
What is new is that consumer and small-business users no longer have any choice; Windows 10 will always send crash reports. (Microsoft will grudgingly give enterprise users the option to disable crash reports in the future.) Think of it as self-buckling seatbelts for Windows 10; it’s for your own safety and that of every other user.
"Sanitized For Your Protection..."
Remember those paper bands you used to see on public toilets? Microsoft has taken the idea digital. Myerson emphasizes that the crash report is scrubbed of data such as names, user account IDs, IP addresses, email addresses, and other things that might personally identify a user. That's good. Crash reports also filter out filenames and file contents, delivering to Microsoft or app developers only data that will be useful in debugging what went wrong with Windows 10 or an app.
This makes perfect sense. No one wants to pay engineers to sift through gigabytes of your personal life to find out why their software broke, or pay for the transmission and/or storage of all that irrelevant stuff. Why not use the end-user’s device to strip extraneous data from a memory dump and transmit only the essentials?
A crash report must include not only the “what” of an incident but also the “where.” Microsoft and app developers need to know whether 100 crash reports came from one hundred devices or one device. So Windows 10 generates a “device ID” unique to each device on which it is installed. But it bears no relationship to who owns or uses the device.
The “Advertising ID” generated by Windows 10 is completely different from the device ID. It identifies a specific user account created on a Windows 10 device. A database of Advertising IDs is kept by Microsoft and shared with app developers. Developers may use your Advertising ID to customize the ads that their apps display to you on any device.
You can turn off the Advertising ID by clicking the Start button, then "Settings" and then "Privacy." On the "General" tab, the first item says "Let apps use my advertising ID for experiences across apps." Use the slider underneath to toggle it to the Off position if desired.
Oh, How Delightful!
“Personalization data” is collected so that the user’s experience on Windows 10 or an app can be customized to “deliver a delightful and personalized Windows experience.” Such data may include the fact that you’re a fan of a particular sports team, or follow certain stocks, or use certain apps, or tend to use certain words a lot. If you want real-time sports scores for the Giants, Microsoft needs to know you like the Giants. If you have trouble spelling “Pharaoh,” Microsoft can add that word to your personal auto-correcting dictionary. Allowing collection of such personalization data can make your Windows experience more pleasant and productive.
But you can turn off collection of personalization data, either the first time you install Windows 10 or at any later date. Detailed instructions for both options are linked here. Yes, there are a lot of different things you can toggle on or off. You won’t like that if you buy only one color of socks to save decision-making time in the morning. But it beats having no choice at all.
Cortana, Microsoft’s personal digital assistant, is disabled by default; “she” must be manually enabled on each device on which Windows 10 is installed. Some people like Cortana, others find “her” creepy. To disable Cortana after turning it on, open Settings, then select Privacy > Cortana > Notebook > Settings and turn off the Cortana setting.
Then (sigh) there are privacy settings and policies for individual apps that run under Windows 10. The new Edge browser, for example, has its own FAQ including instructions for disabling privacy-sensitive data collection. So does Windows Hello, the password-replacement that works with the Microsoft Passport service and a variety of biometric authentication technologies.
“Advertising Data We Don’t Collect” is Myerson’s third data-collection category. Unlike Google, Microsoft says, they do not scan your email, text messages, or data files for keywords it can use to target ads. Thanks, fellas.
It seems the only one-stop “off button” for privacy intrusions is the power switch on your router or modem. Tweaking all the settings in Windows 10 and all the apps acquired on all devices appears to be a perpetual game of Whack-A-Mole.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 5 Oct 2015
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Microsoft Responds to Windows 10 Privacy Concerns (Posted: 5 Oct 2015)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved