• Windows 10, spying, and the future

    Just had a really good question from reader JQ:

    Is there any way to stop Microsoft Completely from spying on me using Windows 10? I have a feeling that no matter what settings I would change, Microsoft would still be able to access my computer data via Windows 10. In which case… I see absolutely no reason to even use Windows 10. Microsoft must be planning on a lot of people being blind to this. I currently use Windows 7 & 8, and I have removed Windows 10 from the same computer.

    Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news. Or maybe not good.

    Windows 10 collects data about what you do, where you go on the web, and it may or may not scan data you have stored on Microsoft’s servers. We still don’t know for sure about that one.

    The scanning isn’t intended to snoop on you – it’s kind of spying, but it really isn’t. It’s all about gathering data about you, so Microsoft can direct ads at you that you’re more inclined to click.

    If you’ve been using Google search, the Chrome browser, Gmail (free account), or Google docs storage (free account), you’ve been subjected to the same sort of skimming for years. Microsoft used to call it “Scroogled.” Now they’re surprisingly quiet on the subject.

    We just learned last week that AVG Free, the antivirus product, does something similar.

    I was shocked to learn last week that Firefox – long a bastion of snooplessness – has started using data that it collects to target ads, as well.

    Apple swears it doesn’t do the same thing, but I don’t pretend to be an expert on the subject. Facebook does something similar. There are many other companies collecting data as best they can and either using it to target ads, or selling it to companies that do.

    I’ve been struggling with the question of whether that’s really evil, or if it’s just a sign of the times — we give up some of our privacy, in order to get the benefit of a “free” lunch. As in TANSTAAFL.

    Don’t get me started on credit reporting agencies and credit card companies, which have access to enormous troves of personal data.

    I remember back, long ago, in a galaxy far away, when I broke down and started using a grocery store affinity card — use the card, get a discount, and the grocer learns of your shopping habits. I felt uncomfortable about that for a long time. Now, it’s just kind of part of the deal.

    I had hoped that Windows 10 would let you turn off all of the reporting, but it won’t. Peter Bright had an eye-opening post about a month ago, Even when told not to, Windows 10 just can’t stop talking to Microsoft / It’s no wonder that privacy activists are up in arms.

    I use Windows 10 all day, every day, and I haven’t yet sprouted a third arm or a tinfoil hat. But I’m still uncomfortable with the spying.

    I have two major concerns right now:

    First, people who use Windows 10 need to understand what data is being collected, and what they can do to curtail the spying, if they don’t want it. I wrote about that in my Win10 book, but I still meet people every day who have no idea that there’s some data collection going on, and that they can cut back on some (but not all) of it.

    Second, I’m deeply concerned that the spying is getting retrofitted into Windows 7 and 8.1. I’m running a bunch of experiments right now, trying to figure out if it’s possible to turn the data collection off. I’ve railed against the Customer Experience Improvement Program for almost a decade – but these new patches go further. How much further, I don’t know – and I’m not sure if anyone outside of Microsoft knows.

    So the short answer is: Yep, Windows 10 does collect data, and you can turn off most but not all of it. Some of the things that Win10 snoops — such as looking inside your email for appointments that Cortana can follow — is just a byproduct of performing whatever magic Win10 can muster. Some of it is clearly just designed to sell.

    If that’s OK with you, then great, Win10 has a lot of good points. If that completely turns you off, then Win10 obviously isn’t for you.

    It’s a simple question. The answer’s anything but simple.