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Upgraded to Windows 10? Check Your Privacy!

Windows 10 is reportedly a faster and more efficient operating system than previous Windows versions. Plus, it brought back some features that Windows users have been clamoring for. According to the tech community, it could very well be the best version to be produced by the Microsoft team. So it was predicted that at least 20% of Windows users would take the upgrade in the first year after its launch. This is big, since most users have previously waited for all the bugs to be worked out before trying a new OS. The problem is, it is also the worst operating system to have if you are privacy conscious, which leads to big questions about its security.

Jumping on the Bandwagon

Microsoft has been far from innocent in the data mining game. This company was one of the nine Internet giants that were implicated in the user data sharing scandal connected to the NSA’s Prism surveillance program. They may have since backed away from close relations with the NSA and their spying partners, but this does not mean that they have suddenly developed a respect for their users’ data privacy and security. They were simply acting cautiously, knowing that they would have to deal with a massive wave of backlash from their customer base if they did not make some effort to cut off their ties to the illicit spy game. Microsoft is still hungry for user data, and they have found a great way to get more of it from their users.

In making Windows 10 an awesome operating system, Microsoft is almost guaranteed a considerable collection of users. It is even possible that they released a lousy Windows 8 on purpose so that many people would jump at the chance to upgrade and be so happy with how much better Windows 10 is. The upgrade is also offered for free, and we all know that everyone loves this. So, what’s the catch, right? Well, Google knew a long time ago that offering stuff for free – meaning without the need to pay cash – is the best way to make money. They simply take our data in exchange and use this to make even more profit than if they were charging a reasonable fee for the services that they provide. Microsoft has been dipping their toes in the data mining pool for years, but they have now finally taken the plunge with Windows 10.

Data mining is a very old practice in the business world, used to improve sales even before the Internet was conceived. But technology makes it hundreds of times more efficient, and this means that information is a super power in the digital age. Privacy is also a very old concept, but until recently people just assumed that it would be respected because it is a basic right and simply good manners. But business ethics is a contradiction in terms, as was so rudely proven to us by the antics of the NSA and all its buddies in the business world. Privacy is now more greatly coveted by Internet users, and companies are devising more clever ways to ignore it. The favorite tactic of companies these days is offering amazing features and conveniences that happen to require users to give up their privacy. Some Windows 10 components are designed to encourage its users to waive their rights to privacy, and also weaken their security.

Windows 10 Pitfalls

We like to think that the businesses we patronize care about us as their customers. But we have to wake up to the reality that they couldn’t be less interested in our welfare. They want to make a profit and only pretend to be concerned when an issue has the potential to greatly affect their popularity ratings. So now that this is clear, we can go on to look at the elements of the new Windows OS that rob us of our privacy and put us at risk of security threats.

First, Windows 10 has wowed users with new personalization features. Right off the bat this raised a lot of eyebrows because personalization is the term that companies use to get permission to access our personal information. But some users may have upgraded just because they couldn’t stand Windows 8 any longer, without even knowing or caring about these personalization features. So Microsoft made all this on by default, just for those users who were not really focused on privacy at the time they got their upgrades. Windows 10 is set to collect all the user’s contacts, personal chat, SMS and email messages, calendar data, location, searches, notes, and other information on how he or she uses the device running Windows 10. It is also set to automatically sync files like photos from other devices owned by the user.

Second, each Windows 10 user is given an Advertising ID that is associated with all the data that Microsoft collects from the system. Many companies will collect data but also de-personalize it, meaning that it is bundled together and not associated with any personally indentifying information. With Windows 10, each user is uniquely identified on purpose, which is the beginning of a real privacy nightmare. Sure, data that is unique to each user is needed to make the OS smart, to allow it to adjust to each individual’s preferences. But Microsoft did not have to make this the default setting, and they also did not explain the security implications of having our life laid out like an open book, each moment automatically uploaded to One Drive and Microsoft’s not-so-secure servers.

Third, a feature called WiFi Sense automatically uploads a user’s network passwords to the cloud and shares them with that user’s contacts. This is to facilitate WiFi network sharing with friends, but can soon turn into a huge security hole on the network level.

Securing Your Windows 10 Device

Thankfully, there is a relatively simple way to reclaim your privacy and reestablish security on a device running Windows 10. The Privacy Settings can be easily found by using the search feature, and there may be toggled off by category or individually to allow only certain apps to access certain data. Most importantly, Microsoft can be refused access to your usage data, their apps can be denied the use of your Advertising ID, and your location can be turned off as well. By searching for Advertising (under the General menu for Privacy) you can also disable the ID to prevent any apps from using it. WiFi Sense should also be disabled, and this can be found by clicking the Manage WiFi Settings link under the list of available connections. Doing this may remove the smart component of Windows 10, but it means you are smart for putting security and privacy above a few cool features.

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