The Windows 10 reviews are pouring in and the general consensus seems to be that it rocks (especially over Windows 8). It’s feature-rich, fun, and best of all, free. So why then is Slate.com calling it a privacy nightmare in dire need of reform? Because most of the powerful privacy settings are turned off by default. Yikes. Forget Clippy ever happened. There’s a new Microsoft sheriff annoying users in town.
The issue comes down to your personal information. Microsoft is acting as if it wants to collect lots of yours, more than it ever has before. And it’s not telling us why. In an Edward Snowden world, that scares people, as well it should. Sure, in certain instances it makes logical sense. Take Cortana for example, your friendly neighborhood personal digital assistant. Just like Apple’s Siri, in order to give you good ideas, Cortana needs to get to know you, your interests, and where you like to hang out. You can play with her settings if you choose, but the onus rests entirely on you. And therein lies the fundamental flaw of Windows 10: everything is on you.
You can read all you want about Windows 10 privacy features, but that doesn’t mean you have them. It’s kind of odd. A company builds powerful privacy into its application but then leaves it up to you to become Sherlock Holmes to find them. Even worse, Microsoft doesn’t highlight this fact. There’s no FYI; no “just in case you’re wondering.” Most people will never know what’s missing or in fact what they’ve got.
To those who know about the privacy issue and want to resolve it, there’s another mountain to climb: changing the settings. This is not a one-click procedure. If you have the time and patience and want to go all techno-geek, then you can probably get there. If not, you’re kind of screwed. The end result is that everyday people won’t bother. They’ll opt for leaving well enough alone over being mired in some techno-hell. Isn’t that why most of us stick too long with technology, even when we know change would be for the better?
So what was Microsoft thinking? On the one hand, there’s the whole issue of keeping up with the Jones’s. Apple, Facebook, Google, all of Microsoft’s main competitors, collect information about you. Microsoft does too for that matter. But Apple and its CEO Tim Cook, as shown in recent speeches and blogs, suggest they want to change their tune. Microsoft looks like it potentially does too, but it sounds like the wrong song.
Secondly, as Forrester Research’s Tyler Shields points out, it’s simple addition. Microsoft makes money off of its value-added services. If you offer those services as an opt-in, something that requires action and thought, most people tend to opt-out. If you reverse the equation, then most people are already opted-in and either uninformed about or uninterested in taking the time to reverse the settings.
Here’s what I recommend. Take care of business yourself. First off, start with an easy action item. Turn off Wi-Fi Sense, which is on by default. Wi-Fi Sense connects you to trusted Wi-Fi networks around you that your friends use. Hey, I get it. Not all of us have data plans. Sometimes we exceed our limits. And it’s kind of cool to chill in a room with friends and share the same network. But Wi-Fi Sense automatically shares access with everyone in your Outlook address book as well as your frenemies on Facebook whom you want to make feel small with exaggerations of your high life.
Finally, I would fire Cortana. Take her off everything, except maybe your phone. If she’s on your phone, then minimize what you want her to know. Keep her as a work friend, one who only needs to know one aspect of your life instead of the entire you.
Microsoft is not the first to follow such user-unfriendly practices, nor will they be the last. That’s why we need to continue to demand that companies clearly inform users about the information they collect, how they use it, and where it goes. Only use companies and applications that follow such practices. In these modern times, actions really can speak much louder than words. In this case, yours can impact how Microsoft responds in this instance and others in the future.