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Windows 10: Public enemy No. 1, or an OS like any other?

Preston Gralla | Sept. 4, 2015
It’s been denounced in the Russian parliament and reviled as a privacy nightmare — all for doing things that are common to all modern OSs.

Windows 10 also includes a feature called Wi-Fi Sense that lets people share bandwidth on Wi-Fi networks with each other. This little-understood feature, turned on by default, has raised fears that it will automatically share people’s passwords with friends and friends of friends, leaving their home networks open to hackers. In fact, even with the feature turned on, people have to take active steps to share bandwidth — nothing happens automatically. Encryption and other features make it a secure way to share bandwidth. It can easily be turned off.

As for the worries about HIPAA, they have to do with Windows 10 capturing your typed and written input so that it can provide suggestions as you type, or improve handwriting recognition. Again, this is commonplace on operating systems and the Web. And in Windows 10, the information is anonymized and scrubbed of identifiers, so it can’t be traced to you. And you can turn the feature off as well.

The upshot of all this? The kind of information Windows 10 gathers is no different from what other operating systems gather. But Microsoft is held to a different standard than other companies. When it releases an operating system, it’s denounced as a capitalist spy by Russia and assailed for privacy invasions by the tinfoil-hat crowd.

In fairness, part of this is Microsoft’s doing. Windows 10 shouldn’t default to the weakest privacy settings on installation — it should find a middle ground. During installation, people should be notified about privacy settings and what they mean. The company’s vague-sounding explanations of Windows 10’s settings do the company more harm than good because they leave room for conspiracy theorists.

So go ahead and install Windows 10. Just make sure that after you install it, you change its privacy defaults. (Go here for details.)


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