Untwist your panties -- Windows 10's 'keylogger' is nothing to worry about

Untwist your panties -- Windows 10's 'keylogger' is nothing to worry about

As we all know, Windows 10 Technical Preview is out there and ready for anyone with the time and inclination to try out. Much has been made of the return of the Start menu as well as the new features such as virtual desktops, but over the last couple of days the rumor grapevine has been working overtime.

The big news is that Windows 10 includes a keylogger so that Microsoft can spy on your every action, tracking your every keystroke as you enter usernames, passwords, and bank details. Well, that's not strictly true... despite what some sites would have you believe. So, what then? Windows 10 doesn't include a keylogger? It's not quite that simple.

Check out the Privacy Statements for Windows Technical Preview and you'll see that Microsoft is very upfront about what is going on. Just read the two opening sentences: "Thank you for choosing to participate in the pre-release program for our next version of Windows! The purpose of the program is to enable you to provide usage data and feedback to Microsoft while trying out Microsoft’s pre-release software and services".

So right from the start it is made clear that by using the Technical Preview you'll be providing Microsoft with usage data. But just what does this mean? Handily enough, the privacy statements page breaks it down for us:

  • install the Program, we may collect information about your device and applications and use it for purposes such as determining or improving compatibility,
  • use voice input features like speech-to-text, we may collect voice information and use it for purposes such as improving speech processing,
  • open a file, we may collect information about the file, the application used to open the file, and how long it takes any use it for purposes such as improving performance, or
  • enter text, we may collect typed characters and use them for purposes such as improving autocomplete and spellcheck features.

Hold on a minute! What's that last one? "We may collect typed characters"? This is the clause that has upset a lot of people who interpret this as an admission that there is a keylogger built in to Windows 10. We're getting into semantics here, but Windows 10 does not include a keylogger -- at least not in the traditional sense of the word. Microsoft is very open about the fact that data will be collected. It’s very much the point of the preview, after all. Despite my 'meh' reaction to Windows 10 Technical Preview, it's important to remember a few things.

To start with, this is not even a beta release. The preview exists so that Microsoft can not only showcase what's coming up, but also so real-world usage scenarios can be tested. To do this, Microsoft needs data -- lots of data. You might think it unreasonable that Microsoft should collect data entered via the keyboard, but in taking part in the preview program, this is what you have signed up for. Even before downloading the Technical Preview, Microsoft suggests that you "see our privacy statement to learn how we will collect data about your installation and use of the preview to help us improve our products and services".

It's made clear that this is a preview that's suitable if "you're a PC expert or an IT pro" -- it is not something for everyone. Microsoft also points out that you should only be using the TP (oh yes) if you "aren't installing it on your everyday computer". If you fall into these camps, you really should be aware of what a keylogger is, and how you should approach and use pre-release software like this.

How many keyloggers include a description of how collected data will be used? "Microsoft uses data we collect from the Program to operate, improve and personalize the Program and other Microsoft products and services. Some data is stored on your device and some data is transmitted to Microsoft. Microsoft shares some data with our partners to improve how their products and services work with Microsoft’s products and services. We use your contact information to communicate with you, for example, to inform you about the Program, updates, and related products and services. We use information about your preferences to configure Program features. For example, we use information we learn about your interests to help make the ads we show you more relevant, and we use your voice data to improve speech recognition".

The suggestion implicit in referring to a keylogger in Windows 10 is that Microsoft is being underhand. It absolutely is not. Data collection is made explicitly clear right from the beginning. If you've approached the Technical Preview correctly you would be well aware of the logging -- the recent headlines will not have been news. Complaints come from people who do not read small print -- although here it is not "small print", what is going on is made abundantly clear from the very start.

We contacted Microsoft for further clarification about how data is collected and a spokesperson said:

With Windows 10, we’re kicking off the largest ever open collaborative development effort that will change the way we build and deliver Windows. Users who join the Windows Insider Program and opt-in to the Windows 10 Technical Preview are choosing to provide data and feedback that will help shape the best Windows experience for our customers. As always, we remain committed to helping protect our customers’ personal information and ensuring safeguards are in place for the collection and storing of that data. As we get closer to a final product, we will continue to share information through our terms of service and privacy statement about how customer data is collected and used, as well as what choices and controls are available.

Remember, this is Microsoft. It's one of the biggest companies in the world, with millions of pairs of eyes watching its every move -- many of them connected to people ready to pounce the moment a foot is placed out of line. There is nothing untoward going on here. Data collection is to be expected, it is necessary. Microsoft is under far too much scrutiny for even consider misusing collected data in any way, despite what some people have suggested.

I'm all for laying into Microsoft -- but only when it's justified. Cut the company some slack. Move on... there's nothing to see here.

Photo credit: Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock

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