Windows 10 data collection sparks Microsoft privacy concerns

Windows 10 constantly feeds your information to Microsoft, raising questions about how private your experience really is.

Users may find it unsettling that Windows 10 logs nearly every move they make, and sends the information back to Microsoft on a regular basis.

Windows 10 sends data back to Microsoft on the usage of features such as Cortana and OneDrive, even when features the Microsoft server requests are turned off, as found in a recent report by Ars Technica.

As part of delivering Windows 10 as a cloud service, updates may be delivered to provide ongoing new features to Bing search, such as new visual layouts, styles and search code, a Microsoft spokesperson said. But the company said some types of data aren't collected.

"No query or search usage data is sent to Microsoft, in accordance with the customer's chosen privacy settings. This also applies to searching offline for items such as apps, files and settings on the device."

The statement holds true as no query or search usage data is sent to Microsoft, but even when Web search and Cortana were disabled, clicking on the Start Menu and typing in the Search field triggers the Windows machine to start sending information back to a Microsoft server that include a machine ID, Ars Technica found. Microsoft declined further comment.

This is not the first time Microsoft privacy rules have been under fire. In March of last year, the company looked through a blogger's Hotmail account to find the source of leaked code for Windows 8, which had yet to be released. After an arrest was made, Microsoft made changes to its privacy policy.

"If we receive information indicating that someone is using our services to traffic in stolen intellectual or physical property from Microsoft, we will not inspect a customer's private content ourselves," a Microsoft spokesperson wrote on the company blog. "Instead, we will refer the matter to law enforcement if further action is required."

In Microsoft's Privacy Statement under a section titled "Personal Data We Collect," the company lists the data collected including emails, text messages and information of a user's contacts. Microsoft also collects passwords, user names, contact information, IP addresses, websites visited, terms searched for, and software features used. The company even logs users' locations based on GPS, identifying nearby cellular towers, and Wi-Fi hotspots, according to its Privacy Statement.

*The company notes in its privacy statement that this is all done to better suit the needs of its users.

It's a given that all OSes are phoning home, but enterprise customers need to understand where these vendors are making their money from.
Patrick MoorheadPresident and Principal Analyst, Moor Insights & Strategy

"Government customers would get a little spooked by that," said Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy, a tech analyst firm based in Austin, Texas. "However, you can turn that off. The servers have an IP address and you can block those IP addresses out on your PC or networks firewall. There are many different places to block it."

The Microsoft Privacy Statement also states it purchases data on its users from third parties. In addition to Windows 10, the data collection applies to Bing, Cortana, MSN, Office, OneDrive,, Skype, Xbox and other Microsoft services. 

Windows 10's numbers continue to balloon despite the privacy concerns with the company noting this week over 75 million computers, tablets and other devices now use the new OS.

Of course, Microsoft is not the only company to log this sort of information, as Apple's iOS and OS X, in addition to Google Chrome and Android, log information at a similar scale. Sending an email, asking the digital assistant a question and using the search option built into the OS are all types of data logged by these platforms and sent to the respective vendor.

Moorhead notes businesses should not be too overly concerned about Microsoft logging user's information. For one, the competing platforms don't serve as a better option in terms of privacy, and two, Microsoft does not make money directly from this data like other some companies do.

"It's a given that all OSes are phoning home," Moorhead said. "But enterprise customers need to understand where these vendors are making their money from."

While Google makes its money from advertising, Moorhead noted that Apple's business is focused on hardware and services and Microsoft makes money on services and software. He says that people should not view Microsoft as a threat to their privacy because their business doesn't depend on gaining the personal information of its users.

Some industry watchers believe the privacy concerns around Microsoft is overblown.

"[I] don't really have that much of a problem with what Microsoft is doing," said Simon Bramfitt, an analyst and founder of Entelechy Associates based in Concord, Calif. "The information that it is gathering is of far less consequence than any of the recent data security breaches that are in the news, and reveal less about any individual's actions and motivations than anything that is gathered through social media or say your Amazon order, or Uber rides history."

Bramfitt believes the Windows 10 privacy hysteria is just that.

*statement changed after initial publication for clarity. 

Ramin Edmond is a news writer with TechTarget's end user computing group. Contact him at [email protected].

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