Windows 10 Privacy Issues: How much data is Microsoft really collecting?

There are people on the Internet who believe that using Windows 10 means giving away your privacy. I took a look at their logic and arguments. While it is not true that you have no privacy, it is also true that Microsoft is collecting way more data about you and your Windows 10 usage than it did with previous OS versions. The following post explains Windows 10 privacy issues raised by some.

Privacy Issues in Windows 10

Cortana – All information is shared with Microsoft

Cortana is the new baby from Microsoft and they intend to make it a powerful competitor for Siri. They have already started developing and distributing Cortana for Android too, so that it has a wider reach. In effect, Cortana is your personal digital assistant. It takes your order, processes it accordingly and produces the results you want. But there is a lot going behind the scenes when you are using Cortana.

Almost all of the information routed via Cortana lands up on Microsoft servers. The company has to make Cortana flawless and for that, it needs to know what users are doing with the personal digital assistant. It is not limited to jokes. It employs your location, your language, your requests – like asking for weather information or map information and more. In short, whatever you ask Cortana and whatever Cortana does in order to produce results is stored to Microsoft servers.

The new privacy policy of Microsoft, that went effective on August 1 2015, says that the data collected will be confidential. It also says that the data will not be shared with any outsiders except law enforcing agencies.

Windows Modern Apps

We cannot leave out Windows Modern or Universal Apps when talking of privacy issues in Windows 10. These apps collect your location – to say the least. Depending upon the app type, they may also collect information about your usage of camera and microphone.

Apps like writing tools such as OneNote will also note down what you are saying or typing so that they can ‘add it to their dictionaries (read: servers)’ and make it better to use the writing tools. Then there are other apps that require different type of hardware. With Windows 10 being tied to your hardware instead of a serial key, your computer configuration is already with Microsoft. This last factor is nothing to panic as there would be no buyers for it except for companies surveying what kind of hardware people use and how much percent people use tablets and PCs, if you know what I am saying.

I doubt Microsoft will sell data about hardware, but it itself can, anytime, use the statistics to check how Windows 10 is faring. And it might share the results with its partners as well as with the world at large. I do not think some random charts will give away your privacy as they won’t name you in the statistics.

Turning off Access to Microsoft Apps

There are options in PC settings that enable to you to toggle the change Windows 10 Privacy settings. You might choose not to allow apps your location or your webcam and mic. But what will be the experience of Windows 10, if you do so? For weather apps to function, for example, they need your location, else you won’t have precise information about the weather.

If you use PC settings to turn on privacy, Cortana will be handicapped in a sense. You will find that it might not be able to give you best possible results without the aid of location etc. information

Microsoft has been clear in saying that Cortana and apps will have to collect your data if they are to function as intended. Here is a statement from Microsoft regarding Cortana:

To enable Cortana to provide personalized 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 lock screen is on, what you view and purchase, your browse and Bing search history, and more.

Talking of Windows 10 Privacy Issues, Microsoft creates an ID for each user so that it can provide localized results and advertisements to them. You can turn it off from Settings app > Privacy, but then again, you will lose out on many of the Windows 10 features such as personalized recommendations for hotels, restaurants and other points of interest.

Read: How to Opt out of and Stop Personalized ads in Windows 10.

Windows 10 Privacy Issues

There is no such thing called privacy when it comes to the Internet. You share almost everything on the social networks. You blog about things and people know your thoughts. In effect, you are already in databases of not only marketing agencies but also of government related agencies. So what is wrong in providing Microsoft with data about how you use your copy of Windows 10 – since it will be aggregated and used collectively. As long as Microsoft servers are not hacked, you are safe. I doubt they will be storing data directly with name and address, etc. The company encrypts the data so that the data is safe even in case of a hacking attempt. Though people may access data, they cannot map it to you.

And if you were Windows 10 Insider, you already agreed to let Microsoft collect data about your usage of the operating system. So why shy away now? True that you can use VPNs and proxies to stay private, but that will affect the way Universal Apps function.

According to the new privacy policy of Microsoft, the information collected is shared only with its partners and with law enforcing agencies in case they demand data. The privacy policy says it does not reveal data to any other third party agencies – like marketing agencies etc. It will make use of your data internally and that means your data – though collected – will be restricted to Microsoft servers and Microsoft employees who happen to work on the data for producing statistics or to enhance the functioning of Cortana and Modern Apps.

You need not panic. Microsoft does collect data, but it is not harmful in any way.

Now read; How to configure or disable Windows 10 Telemetry.

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Arun Kumar is a Microsoft MVP alumnus, obsessed with technology, especially the Internet. He deals with the multimedia content needs of training and corporate houses. Follow him on Twitter @PowercutIN