Windows 10 debuted last week to strong reviews and general goodwill. But as the new system has gotten into more hands, some have been raising a flag over privacy concerns.
It is true that Windows 10 relies heavily on picking up user data, and it's certainly more data than any version of Windows we've seen before. Longtime Microsoft users may not realize just how much information the company is using to run some of the system's new features.
Cortana: One of the main features of Windows 10, for example, is the personal assistant software Cortana. To make it (or any personal assistant software) useful, you have to be willing to pour a lot of information into the program over time. That includes information about your own personal preferences, as well such data as the locations of appointments. If you want your computer to send you a reminder to give Paul $5 when you see him next, you have to give the computer the ability to know who Paul is and when your next appointment with him will be.
But if you're not comfortable with sharing that information with Cortana — and, by extension, Microsoft — then you can head into Cortana's settings and turn the program off. You can also opt out of using Bing in the searches you run on your computer from that same menu.
WiFi Sense: Another feature that's getting a lot of attention is WiFi Sense, which lets you share access to your trusted WiFi networks with contacts from Facebook, Outlook or Skype. The program doesn't show other people your password. But it does a bit of a logical leap by assuming that if a person is a) your contact on one of those networks and b) in your home or office, that they're probably someone you wouldn't mind sharing a network with.
The problem here is that you can't whittle down a subset of contacts you like to share your network with; it's an all-or-nothing type of deal. The setting shares with all of those groups by default — though you'll need to take an extra step to verify your Facebook account to share with friends on that network. Sharing access means that your friends or colleagues won't have to enter passwords to join your networks. It also means, of course, that they get the same access you do to printers or even other computers that are connected to the same network, depending on your setup.
The good news is that even if you have WiFi Sense enabled, it doesn't mean you automatically share access for every wireless network stored in your computer. Every time you join a new network and enter a new password, there's a check box under the password field that asks if you want to share. It's not selected by default.
WiFi Sense will also connect you automatically to certain open networks that have been vetted by Microsoft and labeled "trusted." In theory, that means that you shouldn't be caught up by bad guys running fake "Free Airport WiFi" networks on your next trip. But it's still safest to stay off open networks altogether, if you can.
If you want to turn off WiFi Sense, you have to head to the "Advanced Settings" pane in your general WiFi settings menu.
Microsoft's general Windows privacy settings: These are also worth taking a sweep through, if only to familiarize yourself with which apps and services are looking at various types of information.
Those include your location, as well as the on/off switch for allowing information gathered from your computer to show up in your Microsoft advertising profile. (To control what's in your ad profile, you'll have to head to a separate Web site, which is linked from the privacy settings menu.)
In these days when we're essentially never offline the reality is that the type of data collection you see on the Web is now baked into our computers. Sometimes the data collection has benefits, but you have to balance those for yourself. In general, consumers should approach their computer settings as they do the settings on their mobile devices, particularly if they have concerns about sharing information with major companies.