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Dissenting views on Windows 10 privacy

When I talked to two analysts about whether recent criticism of Microsoft’s new privacy policy for its Windows 10 operating system (OS) was overstated — one tech writer went so far as to say the company was using the OS to spy on users — they both basically said, uh-huh. Microsoft’s encroachment on users’ data is just part and parcel of cloud-based services, they said: There is a price to pay for all these free or nearly-free services, and the payment usually involves letting the provider see what you’re doing online.

The experts — Steve Kleynhans of Gartner and David K. Johnson of Forrester — granted that Windows 10 features such as virtual assistant Cortana gathered specific data about users, but only to improve search and recognition capabilities that, after all, will ultimately benefit users. Moreover, users can opt out of these data-collecting features.

One CIO I spoke with concurred with Kleynhans and Johnson’s view that Microsoft isn’t doing anything that a Google or Amazon or Facebook hasn’t been doing for years.

Wayne Sadin, CIO and CDO at marketing firm The Go Solution in Houston, told me he felt that the extent of Windows 10’s data collection is just the next step in the evolution of privacy vs. convenience, and that CIOs and users simply need to be more vigilant.

Not everyone I reached out to, however, felt that Microsoft is acting with the most honorable of intentions.

Robert C. Covington, an information security advisor, said that time will tell if critics will accept Microsoft’s response to their privacy concerns. “But I tend to doubt that most will be satisfied,” he said, adding that the majority of consumers won’t let privacy stand in the way of their use of the new OS. “Enterprises will be more careful,” he said.

Bob Egan, a CIO advisor at Seraphim Group, a research firm, also wasn’t certain that Microsoft’s assurances would appease privacy critics — including pundits, enterprises or ordinary users.

“Overall, employee trust is eroding. Trust itself is down 5% in the last two years, and complete trust is down by even more,” he told me.

It’s also worth noting that since I’ve published my Searchlight column on this topic, it’s already garnered two comments from people who believe the Windows 10 privacy “ruckus” was definitely not overblown: one from a software delivery consultant and the other from a director and producer.

Software delivery consultant Matt Heusser said that by making the “accept default privacy” settings button on the installation screen large, but making the customization button hard to find, Microsoft was making it difficult for users to customize their privacy settings.

Plus, “the default options included a keylogger to send all your keystrokes to Microsoft. Overblown? I think not,” he said of users’ concerns.

Norman Berns, a New York-based creative director, also believes the Windows 10 privacy “ruckus” is justified. He pointed to Microsoft’s daunting terms of service and the complicated installation process.

“After being force-fed a 12,000 tome of legalese (about 40 typed pages’ worth), approve or kill the entire installation, users have to wade through a dozen screens of intrusion approvals,” said Berns.

The fact that users must opt out of Microsoft’s privacy settings, rather than be able to opt in, is problematic, he said — and not only because the opt-outs are carefully hidden from users.

“Most [of the privacy settings] are of zero value to the end user; most simply provide another source of private data for Microsoft sales.

“People maybe have been less bothered if Microsoft hadn’t been quite so sneaky about the implementation,” he added.