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.

Download this VPN to secure all your Windows devices and browse anonymously
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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

18 Comments

  1. Mulliano

    Once again, great article until I reached the last sentence. I don’t agree with you; Microsoft plans to sell this information to third parties and plan to change their terms and conditions again in the next 6 months to a year. Like Apple and Google, Microsoft is also joining the shell game to eliminate personal privacy. IMHO, the convenience of Cortana is just not worth the exposure to personal activities.

  2. Bobby Phoenix

    I don’t think it’s really harmful at all either. I mean they collect millions of bits of info on millions of people. It’s not like they pinpoint three people, and say “Look what we found.” In all those millions any real personal info is under so much other stuff they are looking for like what ads to send you, not what you wrote in an email to your other of what you had for lunch. Try collecting millions of bits of info, and tell me some details you found, and then look again, and tell me again, and then again and again. You forgot 99% of the first stuff you told me. People need to relax.

  3. Ed

    LMAO! People act like Microsoft is sharing all this data with the NSA, Homeland Security the FBI and so forth, NO, it is Data, usage data they are collecting, nothing incriminating, they just want their operating system and software to run better and smoother so your usage data helps them do that. So don’t worry, your daily porn site visits won’t be exposed.

  4. marv73

    Honestly I have been reading this sort of conspirational horror stories since the 90s even if they gained wider exposure in recent years since computers and the internet became popular to everyone. None of them came true, the only result through the years is been growing a wider numbers of ignorant pc users that don’t even really understand what the concept of privacy is or should be.

    Generally speaking the so called privacy is an overrated value (we need to think we care because is a way to affirm the always present need to be relevant as individual) in an era where is a fact that social sharing lowered the very idea of what is personal and what is collective (don’t call it public, people find that synonym disturbing), since anything you do interacting with something or someone means at different levels that you are giving away something about you.
    Not only over the internet, from buying a car to joining a web service, booking a flight or simply going out for dinner in a public place. So most of average blathering about privacy over the internet is understandable but not necessarily intelligent thinking… 🙂

    Anyway none of the big companies you named is stealing anything personal from you, actually they never did regardless of the bullshits for ages we had to read about by “internet experts”, in the first place for a very simple reason: personal privacy is not even a value to such companies and there is no way it could be, stats and user behaviours are, meant as an abstraction of the person behind it…but that doesn’t make your personal information relevant by any means as far as you are profiled as user not as individual.
    This is where 90% of people do not understand the topic they are dealing with, as a person with a name surname and a street address you are totally unrelevant to any company, you become interesting as soon as you start interacting with products and services, again in any market not only over the internet. In other words as soon as you become that volatile concept called user/customer…which, probably this is the hardest part to get for the average user/customer is not you. Is a shadow so to say, a altered abstract projection of how you buy, choose and like services/products.
    All the info “taken” for you are meaningless related to the personal level people freak out to defend (beside the fact that then they end up sharing them over social network unsolicited, publicly and gratuitiously…but that’s another story).

    We should by now understand the social need to elaborate and feed urban legends it’s a phenomenon that has been with our society from a very long time now, anthropology and psychology through the years came out with interesting studies but still looking at it from a general perspective is more or less the same thing because folklore and legends survived through centuries and radical cultural changes. It was about ghosts in medieval times, cold war in the 60s, today is dystopian technologies. Oh…how many many words and stories we made about these topics, but facts are that the dead remained dead, nuclear weapons and mass destruction never happened, and…Microsoft, Apple and Google didn’t sold any user to anyone.
    The surface is shifting to fit the contemporary culture, but to substance is always that people need to find some enemy within our daily common lives.

  5. Paradox

    “The company encrypts the data so that the data is safe even in case of a
    hacking attempt.” …. This is an often used misconception that gives people a false sense of trust. Disk encryption only protects the data if the disk array is stolen. If a hacker works his way into the data while it is online, then he will be authenticated, and therefore have access to it. Also – how thoroughly are these security measures applied ? Is it PCI DSS compliant .. all the way from the end user to the Microsoft Cloud ? I don’t think so. With so many recent huge hacks, including major banks, it is possible this data could be hacked.

    “I doubt they will be storing data directly with name and address, etc.” ….. Doubt ? Can’t anybody tell us for sure ? The email address will be hoovered up by Microsoft from Outlook. This is almost as good as a name and address. Cortana will hoover up everything. Name & address will be in the data somewhere.

    For me, it doesn’t matter so much about data collection on my smartphone and tablet. I contain the amount of important data on them. To me the PC is sacred because it contains all my personal data and corporate data going back 25 years. For some people it contains valuable intellectual property that needs to be closely guarded. Treating the planets 1.7 billion Windows PC’s as an extension of the Microsoft Cloud is an incredibly powerful resource for both Microsoft and the USA government … and I nearly forgot ….. all Microsofts ‘trusted partners’

  6. Obongo Giyabonga

    Yeah I’m sure Microsoft would never share data with the feds.

  7. The article reads like a typical apologetic for intrusive anti-privacy policies by big business and government. Don’t worry, be happy. Big brother is a nice guy.

    The last paragraph of the article states that Big Brother won’t reveal (substitute ‘sell’) the data it collects to third parties such as advertising agencies. Yet earlier in the same article we are told that this same data collection will enable us to be advised of hotels, restaurants, etc. in other words – advertising. Mr. Kumar also makes several undocumented suppositions as for example in the use of the phrase “I’m sure” Microsoft won’t do this or that. Really? How do you know, sir?

    In addition, the issue of Federally mandated restrictions regarding health care, has not been raised. It is illegal for Big Brother to snatch private information such as medical records or legal briefs from personal or corporate computers, yet Windows 10 is capable of doing that very thing without the user’s knowledge or permission. We’re talking about violations of Federal law here, not naughty pictures on Uncle Fred’s bedroom PC. Does no one concern themselves with this flagrant violation of the law?

    Apparently Microsoft is a law unto themselves. That does not make me feel comfortable at all.

    and that’s me, hollering from the choir loft…

  8. Joe_HTH

    Microsoft has never made money selling people’s data you idiot. That’s Google’s jobs. Here’s the deal you idiot. They’re looking for telemetry data to actually improve Cortana and Windows 10. They’re not looking to sell anyone’s info.

  9. Joe_HTH

    Another stupid twat. I’m betting your dumb ass has never attacked Google, whose entire existence is predicated on spying and collecting your data, to sell it to advertisers. It is a known fact that Google does this, and 95% of their revenue and profits come from selling or collecting your data for the purpose of ads. Microsoft on the other hand has never made any money from mining data.

    If you’re that much of a conspiracy theory freak, then stop using all technology and become a luddite. Personally, I think you’re an idiot.

  10. Better to be an idiot than a liar. Show us proof Microsoft has “never” made money from mining data. You can’t because you are lying.

    The typical corporate suck up will make assertions when they have no proof or logical ability to support their argument. In this case Joe’s argument in support of Microsoft has no supporting documentation or proof whatsoever.

    Show us proof that Microsoft doesn’t profit by data mining. You must be the only fool in the world that believes it. Talk about a stupid twat.

  11. PrivateName

    The Weather app needs your location to provide “precise” information about your local weather? Do you mean that my weather “experience” changes if they harvest my street address? The weather services that I’m familiar with have trouble with weather on a much larger scale than that. Location-based weather apps are just another privacy leak. You should be able to provide them your city to obtain the weather conditions.

  12. Marcon

    It is pointless to attack those who wish to choose what and who to share info with. Who would want to live in a glass house without curtains or shades? Do you really want perfect strangers looking over your shoulder at everything you do?

    We are in the post Snowden era. It is naĂŻve to consider “conspiracy” to be a theory. It happens, that is fact. There will always be some underhanded people in all walks of life, including ones that “should” be honest. Why would Microsoft be immune to this?

    We all must balance privacy with usability, but if possible, I prefer to know what I’m sharing and with who. Freely share everything at your own peril.

  13. hannelius

    “they’re using it to improve their product”
    but they don’t care about anyone’s opinions…

  14. zboy

    Here is the reality. Information is extremely valuable to almost everyone. When microsoft collect information they do not need to sell it to make money. There is hundred of have ways to profits from informational patterns. Marketing patterns are simply gold to a lot of industries. Voter patterns can be predicted by proxy derived from marketing and browsing patterns. (Yes you can predict voter patterns through browsing information. The confidence rate is not 95% but high enough).
    Collecting browser patterns, telephone records, email records and some cases bank records is data mine that is gold. I can build profiles and personality models by combining this data that are fairly predicable. For example, a team is already doing this for those ass holes who shot up San Bernardino. That informational will tell the whole story. These assholes where not trained by the Russians and there information security was poor. There are ways to disappear but this is not the place.

    Remember, some of the smartest people in America are analyzing your data for profit and for government use. They are not amateurs.

  15. tjtex47

    This whole conversation is just stupid. I don’t use google and I won’t use ANY app that tracks my every move and, in Microsoft’s case, every word I type, every picture I store on MY system, every email I send etc.

    Don’t you guys get the picture?

    That’s why I have an old “dumb” car, I don’t want big brother to know every small detail about where I go and when and for how long. It’s just the principle of the thing.

    SHOW ME YOUR PAPERS!
    We’re getting there. Look at the latest TSA crap that if you live in a few states you must buy a passport to fly in and out of your home city. It has gotten absolutely insane. I’m ex-military and a closed state is not what I fought for!

  16. steve

    I do NOT want MS to tell me anything about the weather, or where to stay or eat, or what to buy, or anything not directly related to my machine. That adds NO VALUE.
    I do want to control my computer, to decide what programs run and which do not. 10 does not let me do so. I can not disable the crap which wastes cycles and spies on me. You turn things off, they come back on every chance MS gets.
    After 25+ years I am through with MS

  17. Bobby A. Phoenix

    No Bobby, people need to be on guard, The erosion of privacy and personal rights is akin to boiling frogs, Any frog would hop out quickly if the water was felt as hot, so instead humans raise the temperature slowly and the silly frogs never know what killed them. By giving up control of privacy and personal security, a little bit at a time, people become desensitized to the entire problem, leading to loss of personal freedoms, identity theft, etc. I have no issue with you giving up your privacy and freedoms, but I want to keep mine.

  18. Kokuyouseki

    I was reading this and while it’s an old post now I don’t care I just have to get this written down after reading so much garbage.

    Collecting personal data is ALWAYS harmful. Why? Because whatever they say or even plan to do with it, they have no means of guaranteeing that will be the case after it happens. It’s just as st*pid as kinekt was for the consoles. Microsoft Windows is not perfect, Microsoft systems are not perfect and while my computer not connected to microsoft or anyone else, all the time, automatically collecting my data is relatively safe from an attack even if connected to the net, if your data is stored and collected in a centrallized basis all one has to do is to hack that process or storage. And since it happened in the past mutliple times there is no way I can trust them with it.
    Actually same for facebook etc. but facebook still only has the data you share with them. MS windows has everything you do on your computer, basically if you store it on your rig, even your home porn.

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