Are Windows 10's privacy issues real?

So far, Microsoft has managed to stay out of the crosshairs of privacy watchdogs, but it seems that those times are gone now that Windows 10 has been launched. The IT giant's latest operating system is seen as a major privacy concern by a lot of people, so I thought we should discuss it and see if they're making mountains out of molehills or if this is actually a problem (and if so, what we can do to fix it).

Just so you know, I'm aware that almost every service you use (Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) collects some of your personal data and sends it to their servers, but in most cases you know what data is being collected and what happens to it. However, I'm not sure if, intentionally or not, Microsoft (in its traditional style) is a little bit vaguer with its terminology, and that's an actual reason for concern. To prove my point, here are some phrases that actually exist in Windows 10's privacy policy (to which everyone who installs the operating system has to agree with): "Finally, we will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary.[..] 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."

Once you realize this, it's no longer a question of if your privacy is at risk, but what data are they taking. From what I understand (from the text above), the IT giant will treat your local data (the data on your computer) just like it does the information on its servers, so, basically, it can upload arbitrary data from your PC to its servers. Since Microsoft's security has never been perfect, it's easy to understand how this could put you at risk, but even though you cannot change or disagree with the policy, you can control what the company can collect. Let's start things off with some of the control you get during the Windows 10 installation process. (Unfortunately, not a lot of people know about these settings, and even some of those who do, don't take the time to manage them).

PersonalizaitonPersonalization

If you actually care about your privacy (and you probably do, since you are reading this), don't choose the Express Install option, but go for the Custom one instead. The first screen contains a series of toggles regarding your personalization options, and if you take the time to read them you won't like what they say. Basically, they send a bunch of data like contacts, calendar, what you type, current location, location history, etc. to Microsoft's servers. Turning them off would be my suggestion, as the only trade-off will be customized advertising, and that's not such a big loss. 

Customize SettingsCustomize Settings

The next page of customization settings is a bit more difficult to understand, but here's the short version: the browser-related settings send some of your information to Microsoft, but the compromise is worth the risk, as it will improve your browsing speed and security, so I suggest you leave them on. The other settings on the page, however, are related to the Wi-Fi Sense (automatically connect to "trusted" networks), which is a big "no-no" as far as I'm concerned, and sending data to Microsoft when an error occurs, which, once again, is bad, because if your Windows or an application crashes while you were doing something private, the IT giant will get the full info. My suggestion is to set all the toggles to 'Off'.

Privacy SettingsPrivacy Settings

This is all I have for the installation settings, but, unfortunately, there's more work to be done. The next important step is to take a look at Windows 10's privacy settings (unfortunately, there are a lot of them), carefully read them all and decide exactly what Microsoft is allowed to take. To get to them you will need to open the Start Menu, go to Settings and then click on Privacy. As I said before, you should read all of them (as much as you may not want to), but as far as I'm concerned, the most important part is the "Feedback and diagnostic" section, where you should set the Feedback Frequency to "Never" and the Diagnostic and User Data to "Basic". Additionally, you should take a look at the Background apps ,as they not only take up system resources, but can also send data to various servers.

If you're really concerned about your privacy and willing to accept a trade-off, one of the best things you can do to safeguard it is use a local account instead of Microsoft's Live ID. (When you create a Windows user, you can choose the local user option.) As long as your Windows is connected to your personal account, whatever data that the IT giant takes will be directly attributed to you specifically, while if you use a local user (just like you would in the previous Windows versions), the connection between your data and your person is much more difficult to make. You will need a few extra steps to access the Windows Store, OneDrive or Outlook, but it may be worth it.

Updates ConfigurationUpdates Configuration

The last thing that we need to discus is Microsoft's bandwidth 'theft'. I'm not sure if you're aware of this or not, but in the first few days after its launch, Windows 10 slowed down the Internet, so it requires a lot of power to push out the update to all the users who want it. This means that it would have cost the company a lot of money, so the IT giant decided to use its clients' bandwidth to power up peer-to-peer connections (pretty much the way torrents work).  The company calls it "Windows Update Delivery Optimization", just for kicks it's turned on by default, and it's also one of the hardest settings to locate and disable. If you don't want to share your bandwidth with Microsoft, you need to go to Settings, click on Update and Security, then select the Windows Update section (actually, it's the first one ,so you should already be there) and press the small Advanced Options button. In the window that shows up click on the button marked Choose how updates are delivered (below the View your update history button) and turn the slider in the Updates from more than one place section to Off.

As far as I'm concerned, Microsoft jumped the gun a little, and even though Windows 10 seems to be the best operating system that they ever created, it is also the one with most privacy issues. If you have a reason to be worried about your privacy, then you should really pay close attention to the operating system's setting to minimize the damage that it can do.

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