Windows 10, Your Privacy and Why You Should Care
The Windows 10 launch has driven millions to download the new operating system. Indeed, no less than 14 million machines were running Microsoft’s new operating system a mere two days after it became available. And my machine was one of them; like many, I was thrilled to upgrade to Windows 10, excited by all the new features and enhancements I’d enjoy. Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned about all these problems.
Windows 10 security has quickly come under scrutiny. As it turns out, the new operating system isn’t without controversy, with the biggest issue of all revolving around an area that is near and dear to us: user privacy. While the new operating system offers some much desired and somewhat needed upgrades, when it comes to Windows 10 privacy, it appears Microsoft is trying to push down users’ throats certain features that would enable the system to share a concerning amount of information with the Redmond giant. Windows 10 is so enthusiastic about grabbing user data that it can actually affect individuals who haven’t even upgraded to the new system.
Sharing is caring… but with my WiFi password?
One disturbing feature impacting Windows 10 privacy is WiFi Sense. This feature automatically shares any WiFi password entered on a computer running Windows 10 with all the contacts of the machine’s user.
Why is this disturbing? First, it means that all of your WiFi passwords—whether for your personal network or your friends’—are sent to and stored on Microsoft’s servers. If your WiFi password is the key to using your personal network, Windows 10 hands them to Microsoft which in turn will share it with your contacts. As security blogger Graham Cluley has noted, things get really distributing when you consider that this can impact people who aren’t running Windows 10. Further, if you give a friend your WiFi password and he or she happens to use Windows 10, it means that your password would be first shared with Microsoft and then in turn with your friend’s contacts, most of whom are most likely complete strangers to you.
Want to disable WiFi Sense and keep your network under your control? This article from BGR tells you how. Thankfully, it’s pretty straight-forward: Just open your PC settings and click on “Network and Internet.” Once there, click “WiFi” and then select “Manage WiFi,” then disable all of the WiFi Sense features.
Windows 10 and your network bandwidth
Another Windows 10 feature you might want to look into disabling has to do with your Internet bandwidth, which you may have noticed dropping since you upgraded to the new operating system. Here’s why: after Microsoft launched the long awaited operating system, it became difficult to support the many millions of simultaneous downloads of it that were taking place. To alleviate this issue, the company incorporated a peer-to-peer approach that allows Windows 10 users to download updates from other users.
This “Windows Update Delivery Optimization” feature is what’s stealing your bandwidth. In theory, this can be really helpful for you and others. After all, it allows everyone to get the updates they need more quickly. But, on the other hand, it’s also draining your Internet bandwidth—and without warning. The feature comes enabled by default in Windows 10 (surprise, surprise).
To disable “Windows Update Delivery Optimization,” you’ll need to find the “Updates from more than one place” section in your Windows 10 settings. To find it, go to these pages in the following order:
- Update & Security
- Windows Update
- Advanced Options
- Choose how updates are installed
- Choose how updates are delivered
- Updates from more than one place
Switch the setting to “off.” Here’s what it looks like:
Is Windows 10 basically a spying operating system?
It doesn’t end with WiFi passwords and Internet bandwidth. Windows 10 is set to extensively spy on its users by default. The system reads user emails, calendar data, contacts, file metadata, typing metadata, user location, location history… and the list goes on and on.
The Services Agreement allows Microsoft to share some of the data it collects, such as location information, with third parties—which, in other words, means they’re going to sell it off to advertisers. Microsoft is so hell-bent on expanding its advertising activities that even Solitaire, a game that comes free with Windows and which is now part of Windows heritage, now has ads and in-app purchase options. It’s no wonder Microsoft is after as much user information as they can get their hands on. As Google has taught us, the more information they have on a customer, the more targeted ads become.
Whether or not Windows 10 is basically a spying operating system has been discussed on Quora, with a number of various users claiming what Windows 10 privacy shouldn’t be as concerning as it is to some people considering all the information they’re already handing over to services like Google and Facebook. One user even noted that “Microsoft doesn’t have the time or resources to spy on all their users” – not something that sounds very reassuring.
What settings should be changed on Windows 10 immediately to ensure privacy?
Thankfully, a lot of the privacy-invading options in Windows 10 can be turned off. However, and herein lies the problem, these options are “opt out” and are thus enabled by default. You can turn them off, but only after going through a process involving several screens. Which is the thing: despite all the ruckus, Microsoft is banking on the likelihood that many users—if not most—simply won’t be bothered to go through the relatively user-unfriendly process of disabling these privacy-concerning features (assuming they know about the features to begin with). Not only that, but as we’ve become accustomed to have our online activities comprehensively tracked by companies like Google and Facebook for the purpose of advertisement targeting, Microsoft may believe most users won’t care anymore if their privacy is invaded. Windows 10 is just another part of an existing trend of taking our privacy away.
If you’re one of the few who will opt to take the necessary steps to disable certain features to better ensure your Windows 10 privacy, here’s a discussion on Quora about which default settings should be changed. For more guidelines, refer to the Windows 10 is spying on almost everything you do – here’s how to opt out post from BGR. It emphasizes that there are 13 screens you’ll need to go through under your Privacy settings in order to disable anything that seems concerning, with most settings found in the General tab. The article also suggests two additional steps—disabling Cortana and changing your personalized ads settings—to get your privacy back where it should be.
Our privacy matters—even if we’ve entered an age where tech giants have made us believe that certain aspects of our privacy aren’t that important. Operating system developers shouldn’t feel free to gobble away at their users’ personal information and activities. This is emphasized when you consider the Snowden leaks and how susceptible your personal information is to falling into the hands of government agencies. What the Office of Personnel Management hack has shown us is that these government agencies aren’t always our government agencies. Further, despite being very big, no one can ensure that cybercriminals won’t be able to breach Microsoft’s defenses and reach this vast data that has been collected on Windows 10 users. Such an incident could easily lead to identity theft. And while Microsoft isn’t exactly storing social security numbers and the like, the plethora of information it is storing can certainly put cybercriminals in a better position to obtain crucial authentication data elements on their victims.
Let’s hope that, much like the tech giant did when it bowed to gamer outrage over Xbox One restrictions, Microsoft will take the public outcry that’s going on to heart and do a complete 180 on its Windows 10 security features. Until then, we suggest you make an informed choice about whether or not to upgrade to the new Windows operating system. Despite everything, Windows 10 seems to be a major upgrade compared to the previous Windows version. If you do consider Windows 10, follow this guide to opt out of the majority of the intrusive features.
Are you a privacy enthusiast? What do you think about these Windows 10 features?