Ever since Microsoft unveiled its latest operating system, there’s been a firestorm of criticism about it. And to be sure, Windows 10 came with some features that were not very popular, like running automatic updates in the background and not having a simple mechanism to turn off those downloads.
Fans of other web browsers were put out when they discovered that Microsoft Edge was automatically the default browser, again with no easy way to change that. But even industry experts balked at the “Windows as service” aspect to the company’s new model, meaning instead of charging users for the operating system, it came free but included more charges to use certain features.
All of those things come down to the use and functionality of the system, but what about things that aren’t quite so frivolous? We might feel silly complaining about the fact that Solitaire—a longtime mainstay of all Windows computers—is no longer a free game, but it was no laughing matter when rumors began circulating about privacy concerns in Windows 10. So are there things about Windows 10 that users should be worried about? Well, yes and no.
One of the chief complaints has been about personalized ads. In order for a company to promote specific types or categories of products to a particular user, there must be a mechanism for figuring out what that user wants to see. By tracking internet searches, email use, and similar online behaviors, companies can send you ads for focused products. That’s a scary thought to some people who are concerned about privacy. On the other hand, if you’re knowingly using a platform that displays ads (like a free game or email platform), wouldn’t you prefer to see ads for products you might actually benefit from and want? Some supporters of this type of tracking see it as a harmless way to make sure that you only see advertisements for products that you approve of.
Other controversial privacy concerns include WiFi Sense, an idea that first launched on a Windows Phone model. The oversimplified explanation for it means that someone who is in your contacts list, is your Facebook friend, or is otherwise connected to you—even without actually being a close personal friend—can be given your wifi password in order to connect to the internet. Again, there are layers of explanation missing there that can be read about here, but that’s the simple answer. That has a lot of people concerned, specifically in regards to hacking, data loss, or even committing internet crimes over your wifi connection.
There are other issues involving user privacy, but here’s the reason why so much of the privacy alarm is overblown: not only can many of the offending features be disabled (although they are turned on by default and may supposedly turn themselves back on with future updates), but these types of tracking and monitoring behaviors are already in place in our lives. If you own a smartphone, use a public wifi connection, use a virtual assistant, or even have a store rewards card, you are already forfeiting more privacy than you probably realize.
Just because you use a smartphone with apps, does that make it okay for a company to use your bandwidth to download data to other people’s computers without your consent, or give out your wifi password without your knowledge? Of course not. But it’s something that has begun to happen now from our desktop computers rather than just our handy convenience items, and it’s got some people worried.
With computers and mobile devices being such an embedded part of our lives, it’s easy to forget that we invited them in. It’s our job to read the fine print, know what we’re downloading, understand those user agreements before we click Accept, and pay close attention to how our data is tracked and used. If you’re not comfortable with the way your data is gathered, stored, and used, then it will be up to you as a consumer to make the choice as to conduct business with that entity or not.