In its current Technical Preview edition, the next major version of Windows can send your keystrokes and spoken words to Microsoft. Andy Gorfman asked if it will stay that way. “Apart from taking Microsoft on trust, how do we know that [the spyware will be removed].”
Paranoia seems reasonable these days. We know that big-data companies such as Google, Facebook, and yes, Microsoft, gather information about us for commercial reasons. In addition to that, the NSA spies on us, and the big companies may be collaborating with them.
Meanwhile, the Windows 10 Technical Preview Privacy Statement is indeed a scary document. It informs us that “we may collect voice information” and “typed characters.” That’s not what you want in an operating system.
But before you panic, consider these three facts:
[Have a tech question? Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
First, this is a technical preview of a work in progress, months away from its commercial release. It’s intended for testing, not day-to-day use. Microsoft has a legitimate reason to track how the Preview behaves in the field, for the benefit of the final product.
Take a look at the Before you install page, which clearly states that you shouldn’t use the Technical Preview if you’ll be “installing it on your everyday computer.”
Second, Microsoft is very up-front about these policies. The Privacy Statement is comparatively short at fewer than 1,800 words—and it’s written in plain, non-legalese English. The scariest part--about collecting voice information, opening files, and logging typed characters--isn't buried, but near the top.
What’s more, the above-mentioned “Before you install” page warns potential users: “If the privacy of your system files is a concern, consider using a different PC.”
Finally, Microsoft has a lot to lose if they do this sort of tracking in the final, commercial version, and the company knows it. Yes, Microsoft will still track more than you'd like, but after the Windows 8 debacle, it can’t afford the bad PR of getting caught recording keystrokes.
If you decide to try the Technical Preview, put it on a separate computer. Don’t put your password manager on that computer, and don’t use it to log on to websites that require passwords. If that PC has a microphone, keep it unplugged or disabled most of the time.
I seriously doubt that the worst spyware features will remain in the finished product. However, Juan Carlos Perez is considerably more skeptical.