Windows 10 Stokes Privacy, Browser Choice Concerns

So far, Microsoft's latest operating system has been warmly received, except from privacy advocates and Mozilla.

Windows 10

In the wake of the high-profile launch of Windows 10 last week, privacy advocates have been flooding the Web with tutorials on configuring the operating system's default settings for a computing experience that keeps a closer eye on user data.

New features like Cortana, Microsoft's virtual assistant, help make Windows 10 the most Web- and cloud-connected operating system released to date. Coupled with the company's updated privacy policy and service agreement, privacy watchers are wary about how the Redmond, Wash., tech titan is handling user data.

"Summing up these 45 pages, one can say that Microsoft basically grants itself very broad rights to collect everything you do, say and write with and on your devices in order to sell more targeted advertising or to sell your data to third parties," wrote Heini Järvinen, communications and community manager at the European Digital Rights (EDRi) organization, on June 17 in response to Microsoft's new privacy policy, which went into effect Aug. 1. "The company appears to be granting itself the right to share your data either with your consent 'or as necessary.'"

Some of the controversy stems from sections like the following, which describes the sort of usage data Microsoft collects:

"We collect data about how you interact with our services. This includes data, such as the features you use, the items you purchase, the web pages you visit, and the search terms you enter. This also includes data about your device, including IP address, device identifiers, regional and language settings, and data about the network, operating system, browser or other software you use to connect to the services."

Privacy concerns are having an effect on how Windows 10 is being perceived on social media, according to data from Abode's Digital Index. Two days after the July 29 launch of the OS, sentiment began to sour, with 35 percent of mentions on Twitter, Instagram and other social networks relating to "sadness." Those bruised feeling were caused, in part, by features like the controversial Wi-Fi Sense.

Wi-Fi Sense crowdsources WiFi hotspot access by sharing log-in details with Facebook, Skype and contacts. Contrary to early reports that Microsoft was automatically sharing WiFi passwords, the company assures in its FAQ that users have control over which networks they share; recipients never see a hotspot's password in plain text—Microsoft's servers encrypt shared log-in information—and users can revoke access at any time.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is facing criticism from Mozilla, maker of the Firefox browser, for how Windows 10 handles third-party browsers.

In an open letter to Microsoft's CEO, Satya Nadella, Chris Beard, CEO of Mozilla, said the "update experience appears to have been designed to throw away the choice your customers have made about the Internet experience they want, and replace it with the Internet experience Microsoft wants them to have." The Windows 10 upgrade process defaults to Microsoft's new Edge browser.

Average users may be at a loss about their browser choices under Windows 10, suggested Beard.

"It now takes more than twice the number of mouse clicks, scrolling through content and some technical sophistication for people to reassert the choices they had previously made in earlier versions of Windows," Beard said. "It's confusing, hard to navigate and easy to get lost."

Mozilla has published a support document instructing users on how to change the default browser on Windows 10.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...