Windows 10 and Privacy: Why Microsoft Is Spying On You and How To Opt Out

September 2015: Is Windows 10 the newest operating system from Microsoft or one of the world’s hungriest data collection tools? OK, that’s a trick question — it’s both!

With more than 75 million users worldwide since it’s release on July 29, the biggest complaint by far is personal data collection. From your email content and passwords to the sound of your voice, Microsoft is learning … you. Here’s what’s up and how you can stop it:

In your Windows 10 settings are all kinds of permissions that tell the operating system (OS) how you want it to operate — it’s all under your control if you know what to do. But Microsoft has set it up so that it’s default installation, “Use Express settings,” automatically turns on data collection options rather than giving you the choice of opting in. You have to manually turn them off to opt out unless you use the “Customize settings” option, which is a barely noticeable link on the install page (see below).

Here’s a partial list of data Windows 10 is collecting from your devices and sending back to Microsoft

  • Your email and text message content
  • Your calendar content, including names of people in your appointments
  • Your contacts, including their nicknames and how often you interact with them on your device
  • Your location
  • Your browser data, favorites, open websites and related saved passwords
  • WiFi and Hotspot names you’ve connected with and any related saved passwords
  • Which apps you use
  • Who you call
  • Your voice input
  • Data about how you use your device
  • Data about how you use Microsoft services such as your music, alarm settings and whether your lock screen is on
  • Data about the networks you connect to
  • What you view and purchase

Microsoft is transparent about the data it collects if you know where to look
Microsoft spells everything out in its 12,000-word service agreement and privacy statement. There’s also a lot more information about how Microsoft deals with the topic in its website privacy section.

Some reasons why Microsoft wants all your data

  • It wants to sell you stuff. The more it knows about you (and everyone), the easier it is to create new products and services you’ll want to buy
  • It wants to sell your data to advertisers, like Google does — targeted advertising is big money! Windows 10 also automatically assigns you an advertising ID that tailors ads you see and some applications you use
  • It wants to stop you from using pirated apps. Windows 10 collects data that determines if you have pirated apps and if so, it doesn’t let you run them
  • It says it wants to protect you. Here’s an excerpt from Microsoft’s privacy statement that’s raising a LOT of eyebrows, especially the part in the parentheses that covers everything on your computer:
    “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.”
  • So you can use Cortana.

Cortana and “Getting to know you”
“Getting to know you” is a Windows 10 feature that collects information to be used by a new personal assistant called Cortana. “The more you use Cortana, the more personalized your experience will be,” says Microsoft. That’s because Cortana is using your data to learn your habits and analyze your behavior. It then uses a proactive component to guess what you want to do before you want to do it. Apple’s Siri and Google invented this kind of data collection but Cortana takes it to a new level.

How to opt out if you haven’t installed Windows 10 yet
Do not use the tempting “Use Express settings” button on the Get going page. Instead, click the barely noticeable Customize settings text link on the left side of the page and follow the privacy pointers in What’s the Difference Between Windows 10’s Express or Custom Setup? from How-To Geek.
Microsoft spells everything out in its 12,000-word service agreement and privacy statement. There’s also a lot more information about how Microsoft deals with the topic in its website privacy section.

How to opt out if you installed Windows 10 using Express settings

Leapfrog Services is currently conducting Windows 10 “proof of concept” tests for business use. We are documenting the best ways to adjust policies so they protect individual privacy and business compliance requirements. This means that Leapfrog clients who use Windows 10 can be assured that they’re using a fully vetted, non-spying software installation and are not along for a beta ride!

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