You still can’t turn off Windows 10’s built-in spyware

Microsoft is reducing the data it collects from your Windows 10 PCs, but what does that really mean? Good question. Microsoft isn’t saying.

Microsoft is promising that, come Windows 10 Creators Update this spring, it will reduce how much information it sucks down from your Windows 10 PC if you choose the Basic settings. There’s only one little problem. Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s top Windows executive, didn’t spell out the details.

Now maybe you can become president of the United States by making big, bold claims without any, you know, real plans, but software doesn’t work that way. Microsoft is asking us to trust it.

Me? I’m a big believer in “trust but verify.” That’s one reason I’m a Linux and open-source fan. I can see for myself what’s going on.

Windows? Not so much.

[Related: Windows 10 'upgrade' attacked my PC like a virus]

The changes sound good. Myerson wrote about “a new web-based privacy dashboard so you can see and control your activity data from Microsoft including location, search, browsing and Cortana Notebook data across multiple Microsoft services.”

If you dig deeper, though, you’ll find that Cortana is as snoopy as ever. So If Cortana’s browsing history is turned on, “your Microsoft Edge browsing history is sent to Microsoft so that Microsoft features and services may use this data to provide you with timely and intelligent answers, proactive personalized suggestions, to complete tasks for you”—or provide data to the NSA.

Oh, wait. They don’t say that last part.

Cortana also works hand-in-glove with your Bing search history. You can, of course, turn this functionality off, but Cortana becomes a lot less useful.

Moving back to Windows 10 telemetry, Myerson tells us that, starting with the next Windows 10 update, diagnostic data collection will move from three levels to two: Basic and Full.

Full is everything and the kitchen sink. For example, if your system crashes while you’re working on a document, Full “may unintentionally include parts of a document you were using when a problem occurred.” I’m none too happy with that idea.

Basic “includes data that is vital to the operation of Windows. We use this data to help keep Windows and apps secure, up-to-date, and running properly when you let Microsoft know the capabilities of your device, what is installed, and whether Windows is operating correctly. This option also includes basic error reporting back to Microsoft.”

OK, like what? I’ll be darned if anyone outside Redmond knows.

Yes, Google, Facebook and the Amazon Echo, to name three Internet-based services, collect data like crazy. But I choose to use them. They’re not in my PC. Windows is. I have no choice when I’m running Windows but to share my data with Microsoft.

If Microsoft would stop promising me over and over again to give me control of my data and just tell me what the heck I’m actually giving it, I’d be much happier.

The bottom line is that if you’re a Windows 10 Home or Pro user, you still can’t close your computer’s blinds to Microsoft’s peeping toms.

Oh, well, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go back to my main PC now, which runs Linux Mint 18.1. There, I know my information is safe and sound in the box on my desktop.

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Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Computerworld (US)
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