Microsoft Responds to Windows 10 Privacy Concerns

Category: Privacy

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?

Microsoft didn’t help allay concerns when it tried to “simplify the user experience” by omitting plain-English explanations of Win 10’s data collection practices. Instead, they blithely referred users instead to its inscrutable privacy policy. Now the company is trying to make amends. Read on to see how well that’s going.

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:

  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.

Windows 10 Data Collection Policies

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.

Delightful? I'd be hard pressed to recall being "delighted" by ANY software I've experienced in the last 40 years. Satisfied, maybe, when it works as advertised. But let's save the D-word for those times when we experience a "delightful afternoon in the park," or when "the apple pie was delightful." Maybe I'm quibbling over words, but when companies use over-the-top language like that, it's actually a turn-off to me.

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.

No, we’re still not done with privacy settings and policies. Microsoft is pushing cloud services harder than ever with Windows 10. OneDrive, Outlook.com, and Bing are just some familiar examples. All of these “Microsoft Online Services” have their separate headings in Microsoft’s unified One Microsoft Privacy Policy. Be sure to click on “Learn more” under each brief introductory paragraph.

“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...

 
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Most recent comments on "Microsoft Responds to Windows 10 Privacy Concerns"

(See all 30 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Lobo
05 Oct 2015

Is there a OS that runs well and is independent from Microsoft?
My old Windows7 booted up much faster than Win10. I've been thinking of wiping everything out and downloading Win7 off my discs that I made.


Posted by:

Skyrider2
05 Oct 2015

Two more words 'Classic Shell'


Posted by:

YN
05 Oct 2015

Yes CT, I may be going the Ubuntu route as well. Microsoft gives business users the option of choosing which updates to install and when. Why should home users have to be unwitting beta testers for Windows updates?


Posted by:

billyd
05 Oct 2015

Why can't Microsoft (and others) just mind their own business and stop trying to profile everyone? If I want to find out baseball scores or what have you, I don't need MSoft serving it up to me. I find all that monitoring crap extremely intrusive and annoying.


Posted by:

OldGeezerTech
05 Oct 2015

I totally agree with Chuck. I have been very happy with Win7. I like Linux as CT says but it's not really Windows, so I think I'll DL Win10 to my 8.1 lappy (because I hate 8.1 with a passion), stick my toe in that water, and see what it's like before I do my i7 main box from Win7. Test drive.

Mr. Rankin, keep the invaluable info flow coming, it is appreciated Sir!


Posted by:

Roger M
06 Oct 2015

Do not trust them; do not like all the changes!


Posted by:

dungeon418
06 Oct 2015

Windows 10 is not the first of Microsofts OS that use spyware. It started with about when Bill and his henchmen created the first GUI OS . So get used to it if you are a Microsoft user.


Posted by:

Arnie
06 Oct 2015

Hi Bob
Do you have any inside track when Windows 10 upgrades during install process will NOT fail at 32% - this happens in some instances - hopefully Microsoft will have a better, improved Windows 10 build that overcomes this snag...


Posted by:

Bob
06 Oct 2015

Over the years, the Internet has seduced us into expecting that everything is free. We have forgotten or ignored that the "free" is paid for by advertizing. I accept that when I acquire free software.

However, Windows is not free - I pay hard won money for each and every copy. So why do I now have to also deal with advertizing and concern about protection of private information when I now use Windows?


Posted by:

RustBelt
06 Oct 2015

@OldGeezerTech ... Before converting your 8.1 to 10 let me share my experience when switching from a 'broken' Vista machine to one with 8.1 already installed.

I read here about 8.1 being subject to automatically being updated to Win 10 so I commenced disabling Auto Updates as my first objective. When I installed Thunderbird, my email was totally blank - no email and no address book!

To 'compensate' my Google drive was also transferred to "OneDrive" (which I had NEVER installed). It seems that even when auto-updates ARE disabled, MS wreaks havoc anyway. You know, a ChromeBook is looking more and more "betterer"(sic)!

Caveat Emptor


Posted by:

crimsonsword
06 Oct 2015

Google collects more "private data" than does Microsoft. Every single non-governmental company anywhere including the pop-mom stores needs to make a profit. If Microsoft did not collect advertising data Windows 10 price would have to be more than it is now.


Posted by:

Chilla
06 Oct 2015

Hi Bob. Is there a way of establishing if the Win10 that I installed on my workstation is genuine. I am having doubts as I do not have any of the issues that everyone else seems to be able to identify.
Any suggestions please.

Cheers, and thanks for all that you do.


Posted by:

Ralph C
06 Oct 2015

Another point to consider; not everyone has unlimited internet connection, and must pay by the MB for uploads and downloads. That is one major reason, amongst many, that I will never upgrade to Win 10. When my 8.1 dies, I will buy a Mac.


Posted by:

oldgeek
06 Oct 2015

Any one that believes what Microsoft says is a complete idiot. They have pushed "updates" out to Windows 7 that spy on users the same way Windows 10 does. Everyone needs to disable the "Diagnostic Tracking Service" in services to prevent this. Don't be stupid this spying does not benefit the customer it only benefits Microsoft.


Posted by:

OldNana
06 Oct 2015

Thank you for your diligent work in helping us all to understand the intricacies of our computers. I will be hanging on to Win 7 until the last possible minute. I agree that any stripping of personal information before transmission of crash reports, etc., should be done on the user's machine. This would not be brain surgery. I also resent having ANY company try to "make my life easier" by suggesting ads or providing information they "think" I might want. I've managed to make it to age 72 by locating and using information relevant to my needs, including purchases, and I think I'll be able to manage quite well in the future without Microsoft's trying to hold my hand.


Posted by:

Robert
07 Oct 2015

The bit that M'Soft and Google might collect about us is irrelevant up to what our government's can collect from Facebook and other P2P's
If and whatever the government collect from our PC's is for our general safety because the Western world is in deep Do Dah!!! most folk just don't realize it yet.


Posted by:

Bernard
07 Oct 2015

Hi Bob
I was concerned about privacy issues on Win 10 before reading the above article which reassured me. But, after reading all your readers' comments I'm back to square one. How long before MS no longer maintains Win 7?


Posted by:

John
09 Oct 2015

I can confirm what's in the error messages because I've been analyzing some crash.dump files for another program I use. I opened them in the Windows Kits WinDBG and there is no indication anywhere of user names; just the application that crashed and what registers and things it was doing at the time of the crash.

On the rest of the privacy stuff... This sadly is the way the world has gone. In the olden days of personal computers, you were its master. As time has gone on, people have been connecting to each other and the rest of the 'net. The problem with being connected means that there is money to be made. This is where the advertisers, sorry marketing gurus, come in and figured how to maximize the company's exposure with in your face advertisements. Even this page we're looking at has advertisements.

Sure we can move to Linux or Solaris, but then we pay the price of no applications. Not all of us are programmers or hackers. Hacker not in the bad sense but in the old-fashioned computer gurus-types, who could hack around any computer and get stuff done. Insead we're now stuck with either accepting what's out there for a price, or writing and fiddling around in the back room.

I say this as I think back to my install of SAMBA on a Sun Sparc Ultra 5 a few years ago. It was an interesting experience, but needing to run a gunzip to untar a tarball file, then run pkgadd, or a makefile to install the program. This didn't count the configuring of the .conf file for the application, setting startup parms, permissions, and so on. Seriously, can you see your elderly aunt or parent doing this? I doubt it.


Posted by:

Dour
10 Oct 2015

Well ... I'm staying clear ... I used 98 to its final end ... then got Vista ... my laptop imploded and got w7 with the next one ... its manageable and I bought a used laptop with Vista on it for what it would cost for a new battery in my w7 laptop but will use these until they die. All these upgrades of everything is b.s. I will avoid as much as possible.


Posted by:

Patrick McDonald
03 Dec 2015

I have Windows 10 and I keep getting a "critical error" message saying Cortana has failed and that I need to restart. I have Cortana turned "off" but this still happens. There are rumours that my Avast may be causing this, but the suggested solution of pressing F8 during startup is not working. Has anyone else experienced this? Or better, found a solution?


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