Windows 10 Covertly Changed Privacy Policy

Michael From our Perspective

In response to the uproar that arose from Microsoft’s questionable Windows 10 privacy policy they changed their policy. Over a month and half ago. Making absolutely no fanfare about the changes, it took over a month before anyone noticed. Ed Bott at ZDnet however was able to spot some key differences when he compared the privacy policy to the original that was public when Windows 10 first released in July.

Operation Windows 10 Privacy Policy

It’s unclear why Microsoft failed to announce changes to its privacy policy. Especially after it was made into such a big deal that it clouded the otherwise very successful Windows 10 Launch.  One would think if Microsoft took corrective action in regards to their privacy policy they would want Johnny Q public to know all about it. With 110 million devices running the new operating system to date it is quite a big deal.

Some users can now take (a little) solace in the fact that their concerns were heard. Even if Microsoft didn’t outright change their Windows 10 privacy policy they at least clarified what is and is not at risk.

Some of the biggest privacy issues with Windows 10 was that Cortana would still query Microsoft regardless of privacy settings, that Microsoft would search your computer for pirated files and software, the automatic BitLocker encryption key backup that could give Microsoft the power to access your encrypted files and who could forget how hard changing the default privacy settings once accepted on initial download and installation was. These minor issues aside, Microsoft has made it pretty clear. They are not trying to collect ALL of your private data to use and share with their channel partners. They just want to collect all of your data that is somehow accessible via a Windows 10 device to use and share with their channel partners.

The most disconcerting part of Microsoft’s new privacy policies regarded the scanning of personal files. Although Ed Bott called the misunderstanding a “misreading of the original privacy statement” it seems to be anything but. Originally the privacy policy said, “…we [Microsoft] will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications, or files in private folders on OneDrive), when we have good faith belief that doing so is necessary to:…” The italicized portion was changed to simply in Outlook.com. And on OneDrive was specified to let users know that their files stored on their personal drives would not be scanned. Which should make it all better. Right?

The additions and clarifications in regards to Cortana are a little less extensive. A portion of the added content says: “Cortana learns who is most important to you from your call, text message, and email history. This is used to keep track of people most relevant to you and your preferred methods of communication, flag important messages for you and improve other Cortana services such as speech recognition.”

Out With the Old, In With the Old?

But as one headache for Microsoft and the Windows team faded from view, another was just beginning to brew.

On November 10, Microsoft released its first major update for Windows 10 since the operating system’s initial July unveiling. The team was presumably under a lot of pressure to get things right.

Which they didn’t.

It was soon discovered that update version 1511 had a small hidden feature. Once the update was installed it would revert four of those privacy settings that everyone was so upset over back to default. The affected settings were whether to allow apps to use your unique advertiser ID, which apps are allowed to run in the background, whether Smartscreen Web filtering is enabled, and whether settings sync between devices. Fortunately, this new feature was really just a small if not ironic faux pa.

After about a week the flaw the issue was finally caught and Microsoft took down the update. After a few days they were able to remedy the issue and republish the update.

Other issues, that are in some ways a bigger deal than the privacy settings reversion were found as well. Deleting apps (without asking) is a common theme after the 1511 update. Another issue is with the installation itself. Users simply got stuck- and usually at the 44% mark. Oddly enough, removing the SD card during the installation fixes this issue.

Driver problems are quickly becoming a plague to Windows 10 devices. Everything from a flicker of the screen followed by the message “the driver stopped responding and has recovered” to random blue screens of death are being widely reported.

It turns out that the privacy settings weren’t the only settings modified after the update. Other more serious things  like the location of the “Documents” folder being moved to OneDrive (which ironically is now being inventoried by Microsoft) are fun little gotchas being discovered by Windows 10 users around the world.

I guess the first major Windows 10 upgrade could have been worse but then again these types of concerns are so common that they rarely even make news. Between the privacy settings, deleting apps, and a number of other smaller issues that annoy users; future upgrades have almost nowhere to go but up.