In the year since Windows 10 has been out, it has been under fire from hordes of people for its “data mining”. The latest addition to this group of voices has been France.
France’s National Data Protection Commission (CNIL) has given Microsoft three months to start complying with local laws, and to stop collecting “excessive” data on users of the operating system. Microsoft was told to apply “satisfactory measures to ensure the security and confidentiality of user data.”
Here, we attempt to clear up any misconceptions about Windows 10’s “snooping”.
People have been buying into this paranoia, which is partly fueled by corporate hate, and have been extremely vocal in crying out about this “invasion” of their privacy. This is particularly interesting, however, because in this day and age, there is no privacy.
The state of digital privacy has been getting worse and worse, and its still only a downhill slope from here.
Why does Windows need to collect information on me anyway?
For a company, it is knowing how long someone is using your product, or application, or what portions of it a user accesses the most is crucial for further development. Ever since Microsoft’s shift from Windows as a product to Windows as a service, the need for this extremely basic, anonymously sourced data has grown. This is a feature that would help make both Microsoft’s apps, as well as Windows itself better, and its simply too low-level to be used for for some nefarious evil plans.
Every major website collects this information from you, by the way, it helps companies figure out what makes their interface easier to use, what keeps their users engaged, and what makes them leave.
A large part of what keeps users engaged, sometimes more than the content, is the user experience. There is a growing trend of websites and applications offering their service for free, but with the caveat of showing ads. Like Google, Microsoft also deals in the ad space, and it is a major source of revenue for them.
Tracking is backed into advertisements
A large number of apps published on the Windows Store use Microsoft’s advertisement service. It is common knowledge that ad providers store cookies on your computer, and analyse your search history to deliver advertisements relevant to your interests.
What Windows 10 did differently, at least at the time of its release, was that this tracking was baked into the operating system. All of the advertisement profiling is linked together across apps into one large pile of data associated with you. Today, this isn’t quite as unique as it once was, Smart TVs, like the Amazon Fire, are an example of something that’s adopted this same idea: all the profiling data is linked together, so if you watch something on Netflix, you might get targeted ads from your Netflix browsing after switching to Hulu.
And after all, it’s in both your and Microsoft’s interests to show you targeted, more relevant ads, instead of ones you wouldn’t care about. More important still, is that Advertisement ID can simply be turned off in settings. That’s right. Microsoft gave you a front and center option to turn it off, but somehow it’s their fault that personalized ads exist…
Windows 10’s Advertising ID is identical to Windows 8’s Advertising ID. It only collects data relating to Bing/Store searches and nothing else. It’s like Google collecting data on your usage of Google Search and Google Play.
The fact is, that Windows 10 does nothing different than any operating system which is linked to an account. And yes, this includes Android and iOS.
Advertising ID can be disabled on installation, and permanently opted-out of here: http://choice.microsoft.com/
Is Windows 10 stealing your data?
Pretty much all the conspiracies about Microsoft and Windows 10 have been debunked as either completely false or grossly exaggerated. As it turns out, many extremely widely read and very vocal critics have used unreliable data, compounded by a fundamental misunderstanding of the basic technology, to form their opinions.
The telemetry that is being collected is quite literally the most useful data a service provider can get. The only telemetry collected are: an error code, an app Id and stack trace, along with minimal system info (version number and, sometimes the installed update package list), all packaged neatly with a time-stamp. That’s it.
No personal information, and definitely nothing that could identify even your computer.
You have nothing to worry about as long as you’re smart in general, and follow some key safe browsing tips, for example having unique passwords, avoiding phishing schemes, not downloading shady applications and files, etc.
Even so, if you’re not comfortable with it, make sure you turn this setting down to Enhanced or Basic.
I got tricked into upgrading!
While its true that Microsoft’s aggressive pushes to get Windows users to upgrade to Windows 10 is rather unethical, and possibly even borderline illegal, why are they doing it? Let’s take a look from Microsoft’s perspective.
The biggest reason that they are trying so hard to get people to upgrade is so they can spend less money and less time supporting older versions of Windows. They don’t want to have deal with another Windows XP-like situation, where they had to support an astonishingly large number of people using a decade old operating system. Windows 10 is also significantly more secure. Ever since the free upgrade, reported virus infections have dropped significantly.
I want my privacy! I’m not upgrading!
If you believe that Windows should never be used as a data collection tool, let alone have the ability to collect such data coded into it at all, here’s the unpleasant truth: Microsoft has always been collecting data from you, even in Windows 7 and 8. Maybe not in such a detailed or transparent manner, but its always been there.
You’re in a tough spot however, as virtually any device or service you use is going to want to go for collecting data to refine its customer experience. I’m still not quite sure why Windows 10 is being targeted any more than literally any other online account or smart device, but it may have something to do with how Microsoft has always been such an easy target.
Of course it’s not right that this is happening, the point of this article was to say that Microsoft certainly aren’t the only ones doing this. We pretty much we live in a data driven world at this point. You either need to play ball, or get left behind.