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Business News/ Industry / Infotech/  Privacy concerns hover over Windows 10

Privacy concerns hover over Windows 10

Windows 10 puts customers in control by giving them choices about how information is used to deliver personalized services and experiences

According to analysts and industry veterans Microsoft is yet to successfully address privacy concerns. Photo: BloombergPremium
According to analysts and industry veterans Microsoft is yet to successfully address privacy concerns. Photo: Bloomberg

New Delhi: It’s almost two months since the global launch of Microsoft Corp’s new operating system (OS), but the company is yet to successfully address privacy concerns, according to analysts and industry veterans.

Windows 10, the OS that has been touted as a one-stop-shop for all devices and platforms can access users’ data such as emails, other private communications and files when users choose the default installation settings recommended by the company.

Here’s “where the problem lies", said Ravi Venkatesan, former chairman of Microsoft India. “In a market like India", he said, “if a user is alert and tech savvy, he can go and change the default settings, but a non-tech person will not know what he is signing up for."

Analysts and industry experts also find this ironic, given that Microsoft has in the past complained about the alleged gaps in the privacy policies of other companies such as Google Inc and Apple Inc.

“Microsoft has been vocal about Google’s and Apple’s privacy policies, but now it is doing the same thing," said Venkatesan.

David Auerbach, a New-York based writer and software engineer who has earlier worked at both Google and Microsoft, wrote in an article in Slat in August that “Apple’s and Google’s privacy policies both have their own issues of collection and sharing...But Microsoft’s is far vaguer when it comes to what the company collects, how it will use it, and who it will share it with—partly because Microsoft’s one-size-fits-all privacy policy currently applies to all your data, whether it’s on your own machine or in the cloud."

In an email response to Mint’s questions, a Microsoft spokesperson acknowledged that Windows 10 collects “some information" but said it does “so the product will work better for you".

“Windows 10 puts customers in control by giving them choices about how information is used to deliver personalized services and experiences. We offer customers a number of options in Windows 10 privacy settings to control any additional information they choose to provide," the spokesperson added.

Experts say it’s better to use the ‘custom install’ option rather than ‘express install’. But this option is not easy for a non-techie to access.

Under ‘custom install’, for instance, page after page will throw various setting options using technical jargon such as Smart Screen online services and page prediction. It’s only after that you will reach the privacy section.

This is where you get to choose settings for your location, contacts, messaging and account information that includes user details like apps used, profile picture, color choices, payment information as well as communications, social interactions and public posts, among other things.

There are more than a dozen such settings--and you have individually examine each setting to be able opt out. If you ignore any step, any app you may have installed will also be able to access all your account information.

Analysts are also critical of the fact that Windows 10 automatically assigns an advertising ID to each user on a device, tied to his or her email address. Using that ID, the company can tailor ads for the user.

“Recommending apps that you might love and providing app developers with the ability to deliver relevant advertising can be part of the Windows 10 experience," countered the Microsoft spokesperson. “The Advertising ID does not contain any personal information."

The company added that this feature can be turned off at any time in the settings menu.

Analysts also say users must excercise caution while using the company’s virtual assistant called Cortana and Microsoft Edge, the operating system’s browser, which explicitly collect huge amount of users’ information.

Privacy expert Steve Wilson, principal analyst and VP at Constellation Research Inc., said the trend of sharing intense processing between client devices (users) and the giant computers in the cloud (at the company’s end) started with the virtual assistants--Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana.

“Whether this represents “spying" or not is partly a question of taste, and partly a matter of transparency. Data privacy is all about restraint and openness," he said.

Another aspect of the problem is that Microsoft doesn’t make it clear which data of a user will it host on the cloud. “Rather than residing as a static software program on your device, key components of Windows are cloud-based. … In order to provide this computing experience, we collect data about you, your device, and the way you use Windows," the company’s policy explains.

Auerbach, in his article, cited this clause as “...the single biggest privacy compromise you can make".

Wilson believes that while there “may be a good case for Windows 10 to move user data into the cloud, where it can be processed more efficiently and with greater functionality...privacy demands that whatever Windows 10 does with user data in the cloud, Microsoft makes it clear, and that users can exercise some control over data flows when they set up their systems."

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Published: 29 Sep 2015, 03:28 PM IST
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