Accepting Microsoft's Windows 10 privacy stance at face value is sheer folly


Yesterday, Microsoft's Terry Myerson defended how the company has handled privacy in Windows 10. The level of concern about privacy in Windows 10 is unprecedented -- it even has some torrent sites spooked --  but my colleague Brian feels that Microsoft has, somehow, earned our trust. He is wrong.

Microsoft has broken the trust of many users, and Myerson's post does little to patch things up. In reality, it is an exercise in public relations, spin, and misdirection. It also raises more questions than it answers. In particular, it highlights the obnoxious disregard Microsoft appears to have for home users.

On the subject of "safety and reliability data", Microsoft admits it "collect[s] a limited amount of information" which it stresses is anonymous. Myerson says: "we take several steps to avoid collecting any information that directly identifies you". Looked at from any angle, this is not the same as not collecting information that directly identified people. It might be a minor distinction, but it is an important one.

You may feel that anyone who is concerned about the collection of data to help improve operating system reliability must be paranoid or have something to hide. How about companies and businesses that feel the same? Enterprise customers need to be sure that security is completely locked down and entirely within in their control. To this end, Myerson reveals that: "our enterprise feature updates later this year will enable enterprise customers the option to disable this telemetry", adding "we strongly recommend against this" (but of course).

Now this is interesting. It raises the question of why home users and enterprise are treated differently in this area. Is it because there are privacy and security concerns for enterprise? If so, surely these apply to home users too. Your privacy and security is no less important than that of a bank, for example. Is Microsoft pandering to the legitimate concerns of enterprise customers because this is where the bulk of its income comes from? Why not treat home users with the same respect? They are no less important.

But Myerson's post is interesting for a number of other reasons as well. It fails to step into the shoes of the average user to understand how they would see things. There is a disconnect between Microsoft and its customers that is perfectly demonstrated by the company's apparent surprise at the reaction to the more secretive aspects of Windows 10.

The post also includes some spin trying to deflect from the issue by taking a swipe at Google:

Unlike some other platforms, no matter what privacy options you choose, neither Windows 10 nor any other Microsoft software scans the content of your email or other communications, or your files, in order to deliver targeted advertising to you.

Microsoft may as well stamp its feet and shout "look at the big, bad wolf over there!". There is further deflection from the issue of privacy -- which, remember, is supposed to be the subject of the post -- by trying to turn attention to how Microsoft uses feedback to bring new features to Windows 10. This is all well and good, but it has nothing to do with privacy. User-issued feedback and data gathered in the background are simply not the same thing.

There is also something else that is important to bear in mind. While the likes of you and I may be only too aware of what is happening with our computers, and we may keep fully up to date with what Microsoft is doing and how it is dealing with things, this is certainly not the case for the vast majority of people. Most people just use their computers. They might not care about privacy issues in Windows 10 because they know nothing about the issue. It may well be possible to disable the collection of various pieces of data, but if you don’t know that it is being collected in the first place, why would you even investigate this?

Microsoft is out of touch. Listening to the feedback of Windows Insiders is great, but the company needs to remember that this is not enough. Insiders are not representative of the entire user base of Windows 10. All users of Windows need to remember that accepting Microsoft's Windows 10 privacy stance at face value is sheer folly.

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