Welcome to spyware Hell
It is the worst piece of spyware ever produced, by anyone, at any time. Ever!
At least that’s the ballyhoo (you can’t imagine how long I have waited to use “ballyhoo” in an article!) on the internet. But is it true? Should you be concerned?
The correct answer is yes… and no. Here’s why.
Windows 10 spyware
Does Windows 10 include spyware? Yeah, it does. So does Google. So does Facebook. So does Amazon. So does just about everything these days. This is the world we live in now. Have you ever looked at a product on Amazon and then seen an ad for it on another site? How do you think that happens? Spyware. But not the type of spyware that steals credit card information, social security numbers, etc. This spyware is far more benign and does provide some tangible benefits to you.
Windows 10 assigns a unique advertising ID to every PC it is installed on. This allows advertisers to best send you ads you might be interested in. If you turn off this feature you won’t get fewer ads. You will just get ads that are of even less interest to you. Would you rather receive ads about losing 10 pounds in 10 days or ads about things you’re interested in?
Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant, collects data about you so that it can predict what information you might want to see at any given time. There’s no getting around it… if you want Cortana to do this you have to allow Cortana to collect data. You can’t have a digital assistant that knows your schedule, flight information and can show you “all my emails from Mom” unless you allow it to read and store that information.
Windows 10 is listening
There are other concerns such as voice, handwriting and keyboard capture. According to the “Getting to know you” section of the Windows 10 privacy settings it reads “Windows and Cortana can get to know your voice and writing to make better suggestions for you.” This data is used in many ways, from next word prediction to voice interpretation and handwriting recognition. And Microsoft DOES collect this data not just on your PC but also centrally over the internet to help improve these features for other people. According to MS, though, any data sent to them is put through vigorous, multi-pass scrubs to remove sensitive or identifying information. Additionally, all the strings of data are chopped up and de-sequenced so that they can’t be put back together. Whether you believe them or not is up to you.
Turn it all off
The good news is that, as far as we know, you turn turn off pretty much all the tracking and data collecting Windows 10 is doing. This article isn’t about HOW to do that, though, so I will let you use Google to find out how. But the question remains… is it ALL off?
Causes for concern
If, like me, you aren’t too worried about targeted ads and you believe Microsoft when they say the data they collect is virtually unusable to identify you or what you said, wrote or typed, is there anything to worry about? Unfortunately, there is.
Microsoft keeps adding little bits of spyware in their updates. Most of this, perhaps all, is just as benign as the more overt things like Cortana.
The problem is that Windows 10 updates are null of details. Prior to 10, when Microsoft pushed out updates there was plenty of information about what the update applies to and what changes it is going to make. Now, the de facto description for updates is something along the lines of “This update includes improvements to enhance the functionality of Windows 10”. Pretty vague. Completely useless. Worse, it is know that often times they roll in some new telemetry (aka spyware) with otherwise necessary updates.
This is problematic in several ways. Clearly we should be informed when new telemetry is installed. If you are inclined to try and block all the “phoning home” Windows 10 does you will likely be forever chasing your tail. It will take a fair bit of diligence on your part to keep informed about updates and what, if any, spyware has been wrapped up in them.
We should know the complete details about every update Microsoft pushes out. We bought the software and have a right to know what they’re doing to it. Spyware aside, not knowing the details of an update leave system admins wondering what the update will break. For the home user it’s not a big deal to uninstall an update that caused Netflix to stop working. But in an environment with 20, 100 or 10,000 PCs it was hard enough to manage when we knew what the updates did. Now we are flying blind.
The worst part of Windows 10 is the secrecy that surrounds it. The vague, useless update descriptions. The bundling of important updates with new telemetry. The fact that the privacy settings are not front and center. These all give rise to doubts about what Microsoft knows about us and who they are sharing this information with.
I won’t bother suggesting you don’t make the move to Windows 10. It would be a moot point. Microsoft has made this the same for Windows 7 and 8 now as well. Do you have anything to worry about? I wish I had a solid answer. All I can tell you is that I am a little concerned and yes, Windows does send some information back to Microsoft. But this information seems to have a benefit to me, the user, and most of it can be turned off at any time. Still, doubt lingers.
We live in a world where pretty much every device we own and every service we use has some tracking. That’s concerning. Everyone has to choose for themselves whether to trust in this world or not.
My advice… be cautious.
As always you comments and question are welcome.
Not enough time in your day to deal with IT issues and security concerns? Give us a call at (866) 753-6279 or shoot us an email.