Is Windows 10 the end of privacy as we know it?

Some are freaking out over Windows 10 privacy settings but Microsoft is not "Big Brother" and the features and services that make Windows 10 great require some tradeoffs of privacy for functionality.

There is a lot of concern and backlash over the default privacy settings in Windows 10. It’s understandable to an extent but there’s a fine line between healthy skepticism and tinfoil hat conspiracy theory. Windows 10 has a lot of privacy implications tied into its functionality, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Microsoft is actively spying on everyone a’ la the NSA.

A recent post from NetworkWorld talks about BitTorrent tracker sites blocking Windows 10 over privacy concerns. The issue is related to verbiage in the Microsoft EULA and privacy policies that states:

“We may automatically check your version of the software, which is necessary to provide the Services and download software updates or configuration changes, without charging you, to update, enhance and further develop the Services, including those that prevent you from accessing the Services, playing counterfeit games or using unauthorized hardware peripheral devices.”

That’s just one of the privacy issues. I don’t agree with wholesale spying in the name of law enforcement or security but when it comes to BitTorrent the Eric Schmidt quote from 2009 seems apropos: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

I realize there are legitimate uses of BitTorrent and legal content available, but there’s also a lot of illegitimate illegal content as well. My primary perception of BitTorrent is that it’s where you go when you want to find pirated content that you can’t or choose not to afford, or that isn’t available in your area but you want it anyway. I can understand why someone distributing or downloading illegal content might take exception to having Microsoft monitor and report that activity—but that doesn’t make Microsoft or Windows 10 the bad guy.

iTS now automatically redirects Windows 10 users to a video titled “Windows 10 is a tool to spy on everything you do.” Let’s dial back the hyperbole a couple notches.

There are admittedly a number of privacy considerations and implications related to Windows 10—just as there are relative to Mac OS X, iOS, Android and other operating systems. The issue isn’t Microsoft or Windows 10. The issue is the shift in the capabilities of technology and how we use it.

If all you did with Windows 10 is boot up a local computer not connected to the Internet and ran software applications you installed you’d have far fewer privacy concerns. That isn’t how businesses or consumers use computers anymore, though. They’re connected to the Internet and access sites and services. They’re exposed to malicious exploits.

Services like Cortana, Siri, and Google Now require a trade of trust and privacy in exchange for convenience and functionality. You can opt out of all—or at least most—of the features and services that impact your privacy but you should know up front that you also give up most of the functionality that makes Windows 10 great at the same time.

Microsoft has dedicated an entire section of Settings in Windows 10 to Privacy. There are 13 different tabs in the Privacy settings and most contain a link to a privacy statement explaining the legal mumbo jumbo behind it. All of them provide detailed, granular options to enable or disable different aspects of the Windows 10 operating system if you choose privacy over functionality.

It seems ominous at face value, but the fact that all of the privacy options exist is actually a good thing. Microsoft has gone out of its way to make sure users are aware of the privacy implications of various features and given users control over how and where their personal data is shared and used. The only “mistake” I think Microsoft has made is that most of the privacy options are enabled by default when Windows 10 is installed. I think they should either be disabled by default or the Windows 10 installation process should offer the options and require a conscious choice by the user at the time the operating system is first configured.

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