There are a few unsettling details when it comes to Windows 10 privacy
Windows 10 is here and is being downloaded onto PCs across the globe. It's getting fairly positive reviews, but alongside breathy enthusiasm, it's crucial to be aware of a number of shadier aspects in terms of privacy on Windows 10.
We've collected five of the biggest privacy red flags, some of which are things you can turn off in the settings and some of which are aspects of the system you should just generally know about.
Microsoft can disclose your data at will
“We will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary to […] protect our customers or enforce the terms governing the use of the services.”
This would suggest that your emails and private files are fair game when it comes to snooping. Microsoft point to law enforcement and protecting users from fraud, but ultimately you're relying on the “good faith” of one of the world's largest tech corporations to decide when it wants to share your data.
Cortana monitors what you say
Cortana is one of the much-vaulted aspects of Windows 10, but also one of the more problematic when it comes to data privacy. What Microsoft is doing with the personalised digital assistant isn't a million miles from what Google and Apple are doing with Google Now and Siri, but the privacy statement nevertheless points to the fact that Cortana will collect location data, emails, search history “and more”:
“To enable Cortana to provide personalised experiences and relevant suggestions, Microsoft collects and uses various types of data, such as your device location, data from your calendar, the apps you use, data from your emails and text messages, who you call, your contacts and how often you interact with them on your device.
Cortana also learns about you by collecting data about how you use your device and other Microsoft services, such as your music, alarm settings, whether the lockscreen is on, what you view and purchase, your browse and Bing search history, and more.”
Even more sinister-sounding is the section that explains Cortana will collect what Microsoft refers to as “speech data”. Microsoft says this is to improve speech recognition – which is most likely true – but elsewhere the document states that this involves collecting “your name and nickname, your recent calendar events and the names of the people in your appointments, and information about your contacts including names and nicknames”.
In a nutshell, although much of this is structured to improve the quality of the service, it's important to remember that Cortana largely shares what you tell her with her overlords at Microsoft. Don't get too attached.
Your browser history syncs by default
According to the privacy agreement, when you sign in to Windows 10 with a Microsoft account the operating system will automatically sync “some of your settings and data with Microsoft servers”. This includes “web browser history, favorites, and websites you have open” in addition to “saved app, website, mobile hotspot, and Wi-Fi network names and passwords”.
If you're a Windows 10 user, there is a way to deactivate this by going into settings and finding “Sync your settings” in the Accounts tab. However, the fact that this isn't an opt-in feature means many users won't think to change it.
Advertisers can track your activity
Another iffy point in the terms and conditions relates to capitalising on personal data. Windows 10 creates a unique advertising ID for each user. This ID can be used by app developers and advertising networks, and basically means that third parties are able to use your data to send you targeted ads.
“The ads we select may be based on your current location, search query, or the content you are viewing. Other ads are targeted based on your likely interests or other information that we learn about you over time using demographic data, search queries, interests and favorites, usage data, and location data.”
Like automatic data syncing, this can be turned off in settings. To do this, go to Settings | Privacy, and flick the first switch on the list of options.
Your encryption key is automatically sent to your OneDrive account
This last one isn't bad in itself, but it will present a problem if OneDrive suffers a data breach in the future. With device encryption turned on, Windows will automatically encrypt your drive and generate a BitLocker recovery key. This key is backed up, again automatically, onto your Microsoft OneDrive account.
Taken altogether, the main Windows 10 privacy concerns relate to opting in to features without asking your permission. There's also some vague gesturing from Microsoft towards what data will be used and when. While Windows 10 is a strong operating system, it does present a shift towards tech companies taking greater control over your personal data, and that is something users need to fight against.