Windows 10 launched nearly three weeks ago, and while millions of people are upgrading there have been a number of privacy concerns around the new OS. Default settings send information to Microsoft, enable bandwidth sharing to distribute updates to other Windows 10 users, and turn on a Wi-Fi password sharing feature. Mixed with Microsoft's forced automatic updates for Windows 10, a lot of the changes in this new free upgrade seem draconian at first glance. A lack of transparency from Microsoft has left privacy advocates wrestling the reality of the new features against the legal jargon hidden away in license agreements.
The latest example of this is a fresh concern that Windows 10 will disable pirated games. A report surfaced at Alphr last week, noting that Microsoft has updated its services agreement that you agree to when you use certain Windows 10 apps. It's a document that nobody ever reads and you just agree to. This is an agreement that covers Microsoft's services and apps like Skype or Xbox Live that run on top of Windows 10, not an End User License Agreement (EULA) that covers Windows 10 itself. The agreement now includes the following:
"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."
If you assume this applies to Windows 10 then it sounds like Microsoft is going to constantly scan your PC to make sure you don't have any illegal copies of Call of Duty. The reality is probably very different as this applies primarily to the services powering Windows 10. This agreement applies to Xbox and Xbox Live, so it's safe to assume Microsoft will continue issuing Xbox software updates that block certain peripherals and pirated games. The software maker has been doing this for years on the Xbox side, and it's unlikely the company would transfer such a complex disc-based detection system over to the PC.
This latest concern just highlights the complex nature of Windows 10 and a balance of legal requirements and product features. Windows 10 sharing your bandwidth to distribute updates in a BitTorrent-like fashion is something Microsoft should make clearer during installation, or just disable by default. On the other hand, the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) around a Wi-Fi Sense feature is unnecessary noise that's generated by people who don't understand that it's not sharing all of your Wi-Fi passwords by default as you have to manually opt into every Wi-Fi network that you want to share to friends.
There are some genuine Windows 10 privacy concerns
There should be concerns over some of Microsoft's policy wording and Windows 10 feature changes, though. Ars Technica's Peter Bright took the time to analyse the many privacy controls in Windows 10 that are designed to disable some of these controversial features that send data to Microsoft. Bright found that the controls "don't appear to be sufficient to completely prevent the operating system from going online and communicating with Microsoft's servers."
If you disable Windows 10's new Cortana assistant, Microsoft will still send a request to bing.com with a random machine ID to download a file with some Cortana information. Elsewhere, Windows 10 seems to transmit information a server related to OneDrive even when the feature is disabled and logins are using a local account that isn't connected to a Microsoft Account. It's not clear what is being sent, but it's obvious that Microsoft needs to address this as transparently as possible.
All of these changes in Windows 10, including baffling outrage over an ad-supported version of Solitaire that first debuted with Windows 8, are part of where Windows is headed. Windows 10 updates are being distributed weekly at the moment, and while that's a post-launch pace they're going to continue regularly. Microsoft is offering Windows 10 as a free upgrade, which also means the company has to find other ways to monetize Windows and tempt consumers into services and subscriptions. It's similar to how you might give up some personal information in exchange for free Google services. The similarities also mean Microsoft needs to find a balance, just like Google, that is transparent enough to prevent future Windows 10 privacy concerns.
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