Since its July 29th release, Windows 10 has been constantly dogged by rumors concerning user privacy. Whilst confirmations and solid evidence are thin on the ground, these rumors persist, helping to highlight a worrying mentality towards Windows 10. If it cannot be trusted, who will want to continue using it?
In amongst the rumors there are truths for us to consider, as well as myths to debunk. Let’s take a look at where Windows 10 stands on privacy.
Windows 10: Peering Over Your Wall
In amongst the numerous reports of privacy infringements, there have been a handful of genuine issues. Reports of Microsoft utilizing your computer as a P2P node for update sharing were completely founded, and the 13 pages of privacy settings are also no joke.
Add in the lack of transparency regarding the irksome Windows auto-update system, ongoing reports of Cortana spying, and further reports of WiFi-Sense sharing your password and you understand why some people are decrying Microsoft as the destroyers of personal privacy.
Microsoft do use your computer as a node, but you can turn it off. This is an irritating feature you have to opt out of, but once done should cause you little issue. Similarly, Cortana’s data collection can be switched off in her settings, but to improve the personal service it makes sense for her to read your data. WiFi-Sense is the opposite; you have to opt in, and even when you do, it doesn’t share your password, just your WiFi.
However, unless you manually disable data sharing features during the initial installation process, the Express Installation feature will go-ahead and enable the full spectrum. And there is no denying the navigation of each privacy page can be a tiresome, irritable affair thta Microsoft seems to have spread as widely as possible.
Windows 10: Gaming Search and Destroyer
Windows 10 has also come under fire for supposedly enabling search and destroy indexing features to scan and remove any pirated games or software found on a system. This latest privacy destroying rumor followed the August 1st Microsoft Services Agreement update many will have signed without reading. Those that did were unhappy, but perhaps for the wrong reasons.
The MSA update states:
“We may automatically check your version of the software and download software updates or configuration changes, including those that prevent you from accessing the Services, playing counterfeit games, or using unauthorized hardware peripheral devices.”
Take that how you will, but it is worth remembering that this agreement now spans each Microsoft service including Xbox. And this appears to be the key: Microsoft isn’t looking to scan your computer HDD to eliminate pirated games, but wants to keep tabs on Xbox users playing pirated games and eliminate the practice where possible. Microsoft lawyers have had to word the agreement so it fits each platform, and it means maximum confusion about which aspect of the agreement is going to affect any given set of hardware.
Equally unclear is the range of targeting for these services. Would Microsoft merely target its own games, or would this extend to third-party developers too? Because I can imagine a long line of developers jostling for position in the sign-me-up queue.
Reddit user GenuineID took the time to elaborate on the particulars of the MSA and how the stories of search and destroy tactics making the rounds are without substance at best, and completely baseless at worst. Have a look at the link, it is interesting!
Windows 10: Pirates Won’t Touch It
Microsoft may well be rubbing their hands gleefully at this one. It is a statement on privacy delivered by a number of private torrent trackers aimed at discouraging would be pirates accessing P2P networks whilst running Windows 10. This stems directly from the above privacy concern, and has gathered more pace than a nun on a bike.
A number of private torrent trackers have publicly decried Windows 10 privacy. Understandable, as the base installation doesn’t offer much in the way of protection. However, they have also sought to remove any Windows 10 users from their trackers, with staff at iTS claiming:
“Amongst other things Windows 10 sends the contents of your local disks directly to one of their servers. Obviously this goes way too far and is a serious threat to sites like ours which is why we had to take measures,”
Other popular trackers to have blocked Windows 10 include BB and FSC, with the prospect of more to come. However, it seems unlikely most regular people will notice… well, because they are private trackers. The TorrentFreak article linked above also reads with a serious hint of gentle ribbing of the private trackers, so believe what you will.
Windows 10: Tools to Secure Your Privacy
These two are the latest in a long line of issues and as we’ve seen, some of these are unfounded. But some aren’t, and with an awful lot of settings to fiddle with, some nice little tools have popped up to help manage the deluge.
This is a tiny tool written in a ‘few minutes’ by developer lordfiSh. It aims to provide a privacy check, followed by ‘fixing’ a number of key privacy switches without you having to traipse all throughout the settings pages.
Do steer clear of any PowerShell or Registry settings if you’re not 100% on what they do. Similarly, don’t disable Windows Update unless you know what you’re doing. It may be irritating, especially for those on PAYG connections, but disabling it might open you up for other nasties.
Another delightfully tiny tool with support for around 50 privacy tweaks, as well as a list of ‘recommended’ tweaks. These disable what could be considered the most harmful privacy issues whilst leaving SmartScreen, Windows Update, and other equally useful services intact.
Fix Windows 10
Not a tool, but a website detailing each switch and change you can make to Windows 10 to raise privacy settings to a level you feel comfortable with. Especially handy if you hit ‘Express Installation.’
Windows 10: Privacy Problems Roundup
Are you now feeling more worried, or realizing the ill effects of mass-paranoia? Honestly, you should be somewhere in middle: Windows 10 has a substantial amount of privacy settings to toggle, but handy tools such as O&OShutUp10 make an enormous difference to keeping your privacy up.
There are still instances where toggling the toggles does nothing. Turning Cortana off and typing in the search box prompts a request to Bing.com for a ‘threshold.appcache’ file. Even when Live Tiles are disabled and removed from the Start menu, Windows 10 still asks for periodic updates from MSN.com. Similarly, data is occasionally sent to a Microsoft server used for OneDrive storage, even after the service is completely switched off.
I understand that we don’t get something for nothing. Windows 10 ticks so many boxes, and paying for it with a bit of data, on the face of the situation, doesn’t seem that bad. But unless Microsoft can assure transparency moving forward, I can see issues arising for Redmond.
Have you turned everything off? Have you dumped Windows 10? Or are you just not bothered? Let us know below!