Windows 10 shares user data with Microsoft, even after disabling settings

Microsoft's Windows 10 allows for certain data-sharing settings to be disabled, but in some cases, turning them off does nothing to stop the sharing.
Microsoft's Windows 10 allows for certain data-sharing settings to be disabled, but in some cases, turning them off does nothing to stop the sharing.

While Microsoft offers users a free upgrade to its Windows 10 operating system, its flashy new offerings come packaged with something more sinister: settings that have privacy advocates concerned.

The company's new privacy policy, the checkbox of which is automatically checked during upgrades, allows for tons of data to be sent back to Microsoft, including users' locations and typing patterns. Much of this data relates to the built-in digital assistant Cortana.

That said, some of these sharing features can be turned off, albeit at the loss of certain functionality, including Cortana. Ars Technica reported that predicative web browsing, connection to open Wi-Fi hot spots and Wi-Fi sense can be disabled, as well as allowing apps to use users' advertising ID for “experiences across apps” and error reporting.

Even still, the online publication noted that Windows 10 will continue sending data to Microsoft after certain settings are turned off. As one example, with Cortana and searching online from the Start menu disabled, opening Start and issuing a request to the company's Bing-powered search engine for a file called “threshold.appcache” will contain Cortana information. It also contains a random machine ID that exists after reboots.

The apparent automatic data sharing worries privacy advocates, but they also recognise a tradeoff of user data for a free OS. In return for valuable data, users are gifted an operating system.

Calling Microsoft's blatant sharing “troubling,” Greg Wasson, programme manager for ICSA Labs, said in an interview with SCMagazine.com that he hopes the company just overlooked its privacy policy.

“One way I look at it is it's the early days [of the operating system], so maybe Microsoft will tighten some of the stuff up,” he said. “It wasn't rushed, but it came out quicker than previous operating systems. Maybe it was an oversight, maybe not.”

Microsoft hasn't yet responded to SCMagazine.com's request for comment.

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