Is Windows 10 at the intersection between user privacy and personalization?

There’s an important discussion that citizens of the free world are having. It’s about the appropriate depths and limits of government surveillance over the average citizen.

What is the line between safety from terrorists and the invasion of my privacy? It’s a fair question and depending on what country you live in, the answer will be different.

I believe Windows 10 will also introduce a new question for all of us to ponder, namely:

Where do we draw the line between the personalization of an Operating System and your privacy as an individual?

Have you read Microsoft’s new, revised Privacy Statement?

99.9% of you will not read it because it’s long and boring and you have better things to do (or at least you think you do) but it really is worth reading.

I did because well, that’s what I do.

To account for all the new products and services being introduced into the marketplace, Microsoft made significant changes to their privacy policies and statements.

Here are some of the fun parts (emphasis mine).


Location services.

Cortana regularly collects and uses your current location and location history to give you the most relevant notices and results and to make suggestions that help save you time, such as traffic and location based reminders. Cortana can only work if location services are on, so if you turn them off, Cortana will be disabled.

?? Interesting that it says Cortana will only work with location services enabled. Why does Cortana need to know my location to open an app, tell me who won a basketball game etc?

Speech and Input Personalization.

To help Cortana better understand the way you speak and your voice commands, speech data is sent to Microsoft to build personalized speech models and improve speech recognition. On Windows devices, Cortana can only work if Input Personalization is on, so if you turn it off, Cortana will be disabled.

?? See my point above – why?

Interesting – the Windows 10 section is HUGE and has lots of nuggets in there too.


First of all this is interesting – Microsoft actually defines Windows 10 for the first time here.

The official definition of Windows 10

Windows 10 (“Windows”) is a personalized computing environment that enables you to seamlessly roam and access services, preferences and content across your computing devices from phones to tablets to the Surface Hub.

Rather than residing as a static software program on your device, key components of Windows are cloud-based, and both cloud and local elements of Windows are updated regularly, providing you with the latest improvements and features.

Your Windows 10 license is tied to your device

When you activate Windows, a specific product key is associated with the device on which your software is installed. The product key and data about the software and your device is sent to Microsoft to confirm your valid license to the software. This data may be sent again if there is a need to re-activate or validate your license.

On Startup Microsoft will check your phone every time.

On phones running Windows, device location at the time of the first power up of the device is also sent to Microsoft for the purpose of warranty registration, stock replenishment, and fraud prevention.

You’re now being assigned an Advertiser ID

Windows generates a unique advertising ID for each user on a device. Your advertising ID can be used by app developers and advertising networks to provide more relevant advertising. You can turn off access to this identifier at any time in the device Settings. If you choose to turn it on again, a new identifier will be generated.

Microsoft collects data about you and your friends

For example, to provide personalized speech recognition, we collect your voice input, as well your name and nickname, your recent calendar events and the names of the people in your appointments, and information about your contacts including names and nicknames. This additional data enables us to better recognize people and events when you dictate messages or documents.

Administrators can overrule your disabling location services

The Find My Device feature allows an administrator of a Windows PC or tablet to find the location of that device if the administrator has enabled the location service for the device, even if other users have disabled location for themselves. When the administrator attempts to locate the device, users will see a notification in the notification center.

Microsoft keeps records on your children’s activities for a period of time (unspecified) if Microsoft Family is enabled

Microsoft Family.

Parents can use Microsoft Family to understand and set boundaries on how their child is using their device. There are many features available to Family members, so please carefully review the information provided when you create or join a Family.

When Family activity reporting is turned on for a child, Microsoft will collect details about how the child uses their device and provide parents with reports of that child’s activities. Activity reports are routinely deleted from Microsoft servers after a short period of time.

SmartScreen keeps track of your downloads but for how long?

SmartScreen. SmartScreen helps protect you when using our services by checking downloaded files and web content for malicious software, potentially unsafe web content, and other threats to you or your device.

When checking a file, data about that file is sent to Microsoft, including the file name, a hash of the file’s contents, and the file’s digital certificates. If SmartScreen identifies the file as unknown or potentially unsafe, you will see a warning prior to opening the file.

When checking web content, data about the content is sent to Microsoft, including the full web address of the content. If SmartScreen detects that content is potentially unsafe, you will see a warning in place of the content. SmartScreen can be turned on or off in Settings.

Page Prediction sends your browsing history to Microsoft

Page Prediction sends your browsing history to Microsoft and uses aggregated browsing history data to predict which pages you are likely to browse to next and proactively loads those pages in the background for a faster browsing experience.

Microsoft collects data about you from maps even though maps may be turned off

The Maps app provides location-based services and uses Bing services to process your searches within the Maps app. Please see the Bing section of this privacy statement to learn more about these Bing-powered experiences.

When the Maps app has access to your location, even when the app is not in use, Microsoft may collect de-identified location data from your device to improve Microsoft’s services. You can disable the Maps app’s access to your location by turning off the location service or turning off the Maps app’s access to the location service.

And there’s much more.

Now let me be clear, I am not accusing Microsoft of any suspicious or malicious behavior.

Not at all.

A lot of these points are simply because the company is trying to add deep levels of value and personalization to Windows 10.

I am saying though that for an Operating System to really be personalized and add value, how much does the vendor need to know about an individual? These are valid points that the user community needs to start thinking about.

What is appropriate and what is too much?

Much to their credit, Microsoft proactively have documented what they are holding and when AND they have proactively emailed this information to users multiple times before the launch of Windows 10.

How much data do you feel comfortable with Microsoft or Apple or Google holding about you? And for how long?

Does this all make you nervous at all? Use the comments below and let us know…

19 thoughts on “Is Windows 10 at the intersection between user privacy and personalization?”

    • I have no problem with this so long as users have to knowingly opt in, ie the default is that the information is not collected.

      I am a law abiding citizen, but have a strong objection about commercial organisations collecting and collating data about me so that they can intrude on my private personal life and target sales messages etc at me.

  1. Sticking with Windows 7 myself. It does everything I need, isn’t bloated. I have trimmed down all the permission hungry apps on my phone. Mostly just use the mobile websites now.
    Too many apps, programmes want to know too much these days. There isn’t any need for them to know all this information except for making money out of it.

  2. Maybe if I were under the age of 40, I’d be more concerned. Then, I’d go off the radar completely (which is easy enough to do in the EU, like here in Denmark). In the US, no way could you expect privacy unless you never opted-in to begin with (like, from kindergarten).

        • Really? Not here in the UK. Even the government are guilty of privacy abuse/disclosure. Welcome to the 21st Century I guess 🙁

      • Unfortunately you even receive a Social Security Number at birth these days in the United States which was initially hailed as a way to stop people from fraudulently claiming children they don’t have on their taxes as dependents to avoid reduced taxes.

  3. Privacy in internet??? I would say security (half-hearted). I wander what will be in next ten years? I think everybody get used to be a public person.

  4. You will only be nervous about privacy issues if you do weird things. We are all humans and we know what is “normal”. Personal security and safety is the most important thing for me, unfortunately that’s the price you pay for it…

    BUT that being said,
    If my privacy gets invaded for sales purposes just so that I can get spammed by any idiot that wants to sell something… to me, that is the problem line…

      • Again.. if you’re the average guy on street, what will it benefit any company to know things about your personal life, except to sell something to you ?

          • Easy to just go online and call someone an idiot. You’re the typical internet troll that sits in a nice cosy home, safe, with no real care in the world besides your own personal life. Do you know why you can have that attitude ? because you can afford it. I live in South Africa where everything is going to hell because of a corrupt government, There is a rape every 30 seconds and a murder every 1min :30sec. We have to lock our homes 24/7 with more than just the average burglar bars. You do not risk your 16 year old daughter or son for that matter to walk to the nearest shop alone. There has been 5000 farm murders in the last 7 years alone. Families that get tortured and burn, woman being raped and then a broom stick gets pushed up their private parts until the sharp end exits her neck. Besides the police we have armed response to try and help and protect us. Don’t think we can call 911 and someone friendly will answer the phone to help you, nope it just rings. I will gladly give up some of my privacy if it means it will protect me from any form of crime. Then to actually sit and worry if Microsoft invades your privacy by watching your keystrokes….. stop doing weird sh!t on your computer and grow up …. Idiot…

        • What if you don’t want to share some details about your personal life with others? Would you mind a government or corporation installing a camera and microphones in your bedroom or bathroom in order to collect information about your daily habits? Sure you are most likely doing nothing that is illegal or out of the ordinary but do you really want someone watching you shower, use a the restroom, or being intimate with a partner? Do you mind if a government or corporation listens to your phone calls including calls from your physician on test results or some medical disorder that you don’t even feel comfortable sharing with family members?

    • I never liked this reply, If that is true, why don’t you give us your username and password to your email account, facebook account, etc. So we can just go look through it. Puts things more in perspective doesn’t it?

      • If I could trust that you don’t stuff up my account.. You are welcome to it… there is nothing there that would change anybody’s lives. I’ve got nothing to hide. How many apps do you have installed that logs in with your facebook account ? Why do people trust that ?

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