Installing Windows 10 was like stepping into a full-body scanner at the airport

windows 10 spying

I finally said “yes” when one of those “upgrade to Windows 10 for free” boxes popped up.

I thought, “What the hell, it’s not my work laptop, which is still working off Windows 7, and Windows 8.1 was never that good in the first place.”

My main concern was that the hardware would fail or slow down or that apps would stop working or data would become unreadable.

None of that happened. The download and upgrade went smoothly, aided by a recommended settings option that set up Windows 10 for me.

It wasn’t until I went into Windows 10 and looked at the settings that I realized that the main problem is that, every time I looked through Windows 10, Microsoft was looking right back.

The recommended settings stripped away my privacy as effectively as stepping into a full-body scanner at the airport. I was sharing my location, my contacts, my calendar, my search history, my computer usage history, my writing style, my control of the camera, webcam and microphones and even the content of my emails.

Apps on my phone ask for similar things but I am careful which apps I grant access to and I usually switch off location and often keep the phone in flight mode when it’s idle. I avoid iPhones because I can’t take the battery out.

Windows 10’s recommended settings had set me up for an open-ended commitment to all of those disclosures by default and with no warning.

The most intrusive program is Cortana. She wants to “get to know me” more thoroughly than someone running a background check for the Government. She wants to know who I speak to, who I meet, who I write to, where I am and where I plan to be next. She even wants to learn to be able to monitor my speech.

I switched everything off. It took a while and I have to take Microsoft’s word for the fact that it worked.

I want a laptop to do what I tell it to do when I tell it to do it and I don’t want it to remember anything or talk to anyone without my knowledge

Perhaps that makes me weird or paranoid or both. Maybe I’m the only one who sees Cortana as a potential HAL from “2001”, locking me out of the spacecraft. I think that anyone who believes that someone with nothing to hide has nothing to fear has a poor grasp of how the world works. Privacy is fundamental to identity. In the absence of privacy, we become personae, rather than real people. Destroy privacy and you destroy the opportunity for real intimacy and truthful self-expression.

So, if you’re a Windows 10 user and you want some privacy, take a look at the Windows 10 settings and switch off the ones you can’t live with. Check the settings on the Edge browser and either switch a bunch of things off or make Firefox your default browser. Stay clear of Skydrive and don’t let Windows 10 choose your default apps for anything.


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