The reception Microsoft received for its Windows 10 operating system was, to say the least mixed. But from a privacy perspective, there was no ambiguity to be found. Windows 10 was found to be hovering up user data to send back to Microsoft and people weren’t happy.
Windows has such a grip on the market for laptops and desktops that Microsoft didn’t appear to be too concerned, but now, fully 18 months after its release, Microsoft have finally addressed the issue. Well, sort of.
They have launched a privacy dashboard, which they claim will allow users to take greater control over their own data.
The new dashboard is web-based, meaning users can log into their account and access it from anywhere. One logged in they will be able to see a selection of the personal data that Microsoft holds on them. This includes their Bing search history, their Edge browser history, their Cortana notebook data, and their location information.
It is now a live tool, with users able to log in here. Microsoft claims that users can now visit this site and delete this data and have also pledged to add more data to the dashboard in the future.
In a blog on the Windows official website, Terry Myerson, the Executive Vice President of the Windows and Devices Group said “We are continuing this commitment to make it as easy as possible for you to make informed choices about your privacy with Windows 10…. [We are] simplifying the privacy settings themselves and improving the way we present the privacy settings to you.”
Streamlined Data Collection
As well as the new Privacy Dashboard feature, Microsoft has also announced plans to cut the number of data collection options users are offered from three to two. There will now just be a ‘Basic’ and ‘Full’ option, with the amount of data being collected in the basic being, apparently, cut.
According to Microsoft, users who opt for the basic setting will now only have data that Microsoft claims “is vital to the operation of Windows” stored and sent back to Microsoft HQ.
In his blog, Terry Myerson claimed that “We use this data to help keep Windows and apps secure, up-to-date, and running properly… and whether Windows is operating correctly.” At the present time, there doesn’t seem to be too much more detail on precisely what the scope of this data will be.
It should also be noted that there is still no option to switch of the data telemetry completely, so the basic choice they are giving users is to let them collect all of their data or just some of it.
Pros and Cons
In Microsoft’s favour is the fact that all such data is anonymised and collated along with other users into reports for engineers. But being an American company, it is also worth bearing in mind that Microsoft fall under US law and therefore can be compelled to hand user data over the US intelligence and law enforcement agencies if requested to do so.
Then there is how these changes have been announced. Firstly, it shouldn’t be 18 months after the software is launched before Microsoft gets around to addressing the issue of customer privacy. It should be a key priority throughout their software development.
Then there is how these changes are being announced. A lengthy blog post on the Windows website is unlikely to garner many readers outside the tech community and wider press coverage of the announcement has mostly been sectoral as well. This means most users will be totally unaware of the changes.
Of course, this is likely to be exactly what Microsoft is hoping for, as the more data they receive the better as far as they are concerned. But this is something that should be broadcast loud and clear if they genuinely want Microsoft users to have control of their own data.
The new privacy dashboard is a welcome addition, but it is still too little too late from a company that should know better.