Will transparency on Windows 10 finally put privacy concerns to bed, or will it open Microsoft up to further criticism?
Every since the halcyon days of 2015 when Microsoft first released Windows 10, the company has come under fire about its somewhat invasive data collection policy. By far the biggest complaint is that you can’t turn it off. And even if with the new ‘Creator’s Update’ due to be rolled out next week for some users, you still won’t be able to.
Microsoft have always said that it uses the information it gathers to determine how well systems are running and get a heads up on problems that users are facing. But many privacy advocacy groups have expressed their concerns over the last two years or so, that while that may be true, the licensing agreement anyone who installs Windows 10 has to agree too, is ambiguous at best, and damn right worrying at worst. Even the European Union has got involved, telling Microsoft it has issues with its privacy settings.
As a result, Microsoft has decided in its infinite wisdom, to give users a little more control over what it does and doesn’t collect. Crucially, however, users won’t be able to turn it off completely. There are ways to do this, but you’ll have to look them up yourself.
But the new controls in the next update to Windows 10, do allow some control, and for that, we should at least give them a grumbling approval that it’s a step in the right direction. If nothing else they’ve published a long, long document about what data they do collect and what they use it for.
“For the first time, we have published a complete list of the diagnostic data collected at the Basic level,” says Windows chief Terry Myerson in a company blog post. “We are also providing a detailed summary of the data we collect from users at both Basic and Full levels of diagnostics.”
Not everyone will be happy of course.
Before Windows 10, users were always given the option to opt-in to schemes such as the Customer Experience Improvement Program and Windows Error Reporting. If you did think it was all a bit Big Brother, you could simply turn it off with a mouse click.
In Windows 10, however, that all changed, and for some it was like 1984 become real. While the Windows 10 Enterprise version, allows users disable the data collection telemetry, it’s an option missing from Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro editions.
But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
The new ‘Creators Update’ does make some changes to the diagnostics data Microsoft collects. Users now have two simple choices to make, either ‘Basic’ or ‘Full,’ when it comes to what Microsoft does and doesn’t collect.
The ‘Basic’ option will only supposedly collect only the ‘basic’ information that Microsoft needs to see how Windows 10 works on your specific hardware so it can fix bugs relating to specific hardware and software across the whole gamut of Windows compatible devices. That’s fair enough, I suppose. Of course, the ‘Full’ option enabled by default, let’s Microsoft gather a whole lot more information, and if you’re fine with that, or as I suspect, an awful lot of users simply just don’t care, then that’s fair enough as well. At the end of the day, it’s your choice. Short of jumping to a Linux based operating system, it’s not like you have a huge choice.
A win for user privacy then?
Not really. There may be more to Microsoft’s conversion to the light side of the force. Myers also explains in the Microsoft blog post that the company has cut the information Windows 10 sends back to Microsoft by about fifty percent on the basic setting. From what I’ve read about this decision over the last few days about it all, it’s not entirely an altruistic move. In fact it seems to mostly come down to the simple fact, that a lot of the telemetry data Microsoft were collecting was just of virtually no strategic value to the company, and essentially just clogging up space on hard drives.
But it’s still a positive, if forced move on the part of the Redmond based tech behemoth for all that. So no, the Creators Update does not address all of Windows 10’s privacy issues, but it does make a start. The company also said that more privacy and transparency improvements are coming down the tracks.
Time will tell…