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Windows 10 sparks further privacy concerns

Fri 8 Jan 2016

Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system, hailed as a success almost from its initial release last summer when it gained 14 million users within 24 hours and over 200 million devices to date has recently come under scrutiny for the amount of data it is collecting from users.

A blog post by Microsoft CEO Yusef Mehdi on January 4 showcased the ‘incredible response’ that users have had to Windows 10. Demand is high, sales are up, and customer satisfaction is high. Mehdi went on to describe how people are using Windows – and this is where the privacy concerns surface. One of the statistics in the blog is that ‘Users asked Cortana more than 2.5 billion questions since launch.’ So Microsoft is collecting information on more than the operating system – they are collecting information about individual applications within that operating system.

The question raised is how deep does this data collection go? Does Microsoft track only the fact that a question has been entered, or does it track which questions are asked on Cortana?

In a post last September, Terry Myerson, the Executive Vice President for Windows and Devices at Microsoft, attempted to alleviate privacy concerns for users of Windows 10. He stated that “Windows 10 collects information so the product will work better for you … (and) you are in control with the ability to determine what information is collected.”  He also specified that Windows does not scan emails, or other files or communications, to tailor advertising to the user.

Some have referenced a portion of the Microsoft privacy policy released with the Windows 10 end-user license agreement as an open-ended statement allowing Microsoft to disclose that personal information, including emails and private files “when there is a good faith belief that doing so is necessary.”

However, a reading of the actual privacy policy shows that private information will be disclosed only in cases of required legal intervention, to protect consumers from fraud or serious injury, or to protect Microsoft’s security of service and property rights. It isn’t perfect privacy, and Microsoft does have access to more information than you may have suspected; but they do not have carte blanche to use and share that information with others.

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