The headlines scream: “Microsoft’s Windows 10 is a privacy nightmare,” “Windows 10: Privacy Nightmare and Known Solutions.” Even TechRepublic got in on the promotion of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) in the early going: “Windows 10 violates your privacy by default, here’s how you can protect yourself.”
But as Green Bay Quarterback Aaron Rodgers once famously said to anxious football fans—R E L A X.
Windows 10 default privacy settings do not grant Microsoft access to your most intimate and forbidden secrets. In fact, most of the information Microsoft collects through Windows 10 is the same information Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter, to name just a few, collect about you every time you turn on your computer or smartphone and use their services. If you use the internet, you are being watched. You’d better get used to it.
Here are five Windows 10 privacy settings that have been falsely vilified in the media and why they should not worry you.
1. General privacy settings
The settings found under the General tab in the Windows 10 privacy configuration screen (Figure A), all have to do with personalizing advertisements. Microsoft generates an advertising ID that is unique to you and that keeps you anonymous to the third-party advertisers. By tracking that ID, those advertisers can use an algorithm to determine which advertisements you might be interested in. No human actually looks at this data, just the algorithm.
If you’d rather get generic ads, turn these settings off, but don’t mistake doing so with achieving more privacy. Turning off these settings just reduces Windows 10’s ability to personalize your experience.
The Location privacy setting mainly concerns how your smartphone or other mobile device operates. This setting is common to all smartphones whether they use Windows, iOS, or Android. All the operating systems default to the on setting, by the way.
This allows your smartphone to use GPS or cell tower triangulation to locate you, and by extension, the nearest coffee shop to your current location when you ask for it. Or to tell you if you need your umbrella today because it is going to rain. If you don’t want those features, turn it off. Again, this is a setting about personalization—no one is tracking your every footstep (unless you have Fitbit, of course).
3. Speech, Inking, & Typing
This is another setting primarily relating to smartphones and mobile devices. If you use the voice activation and recognition features of your smartphone, regardless of platform, you want it to learn how you speak and write text messages. As the system learns more about you, it will better anticipate what your next words or commands will be.
If you prefer to have your phone misinterpret what you say so you have to keep repeating yourself to get the right response, by all means turn this setting off.
Cortana is also closely associated with your smartphone, but it can be accessed from the desktop. Before Cortana can start to learn about you and how you interact with your computing devices, she must be turned on. Once you flip the switch, Cortana will start listening and watching, ready to hop into action when you say, “Hey Cortana.”
If you don’t want to use Cortana, just leave the setting in the off position.
5. Feedback & Diagnostics
The vilification of the Feedback & Diagnostics settings stretches the credibility of critics. Microsoft merely wants to know how you use Windows 10. What apps get used most often. What apps never get used. What apps cause system crashes, etc.
Armed with this information, Microsoft can determine where to make improvements and where to cut excess. Improvements and new features will depend on the information collected, but if you don’t want to participate in these endeavors, you can turn it off. Just remember, it has nothing to do with improving your privacy.
Privacy versus personalization
The idea that Microsoft, or any company for that matter, is collecting your personal data for nefarious reasons is just a ploy the media uses to drive traffic to their websites. Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook, and every other for-profit company on the planet are just trying to get more customers, increase revenues, raise profits, and make shareholders happy.
In the Information Age, the more companies know about their customers and how they interact with technology, the more likely they can make products and services customers want.
As consumers, we should not succumb to the power of FUD hyped by the media. Tech companies like Microsoft don’t really care about you as an individual—they just care about how you act as an individual. With that knowledge they can tailor your experience with their products to a personal level that, they hope, will keep you in their ecosystem for longer periods of time.
If that prospect frightens you, you probably want to turn in your computer for a better television and your smartphone for a land line. Otherwise, take a deep breath and learn to relax. No technology company, including Microsoft, is out to get you.
I don’t think Microsoft, or any other company, really wants to know me at all as a person; they just want to get me to use their products. That doesn’t worry me. Does it worry you? Share your opinions with fellow TechRepublic members.