Fears of Microsoft scanning your Windows 10 PC for pirated games are overblown

Windows 10 has many concerned about privacy, but the latest worries over Windows 10's "EULA" are not what they seem to be.

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Microsoft sure excels at stirring up needless worry by poorly communicating with the public.

Despite Windows 10's overall excellence, it's been plagued by privacy concerns stemming from its lengthy terms and conditions. But this weekend, a new Windows 10 brouhaha popped up that had nothing to do with Microsoft and everything to do with not giving the bold print a closer reading.

The latest mess all started with reports saying Microsoft’s end user licensing agreement for Windows 10 had changed, allowing the company to scan your PC and prevent you from playing a ripped version of Far Cry 4:

"Sometimes you’ll need software updates to keep using the Services. We may automatically check your version of the software and download software updates or configuration changes, including those that prevent you from accessing the Services, playing counterfeit games, or using unauthorized hardware peripheral devices."

That sounds pretty invasive, but perhaps not entirely unbelievable given Windows 10’s cloud integration. The only problem is the EULA the reports point to is called the Microsoft Services Agreement, which is not the Windows 10 EULA. Instead, it’s for Microsoft’s various online and cross-device services—many of which run on Windows 10—such as Cortana, Groove, Office 365 Home, Skype, Xbox Live, and Xbox and Windows games published by Microsoft.

So these terms are most likely a reiteration of what’s already happening. If you try to go online with a cracked version of a Microsoft PC game, for example, you might end up not being able to play that game.

The same goes for trying to connect to Xbox Live with pirated games or connecting unauthorized hardware peripherals to the Xbox One console. As The Verge’s Tom Warren points out, Microsoft has been taking action against Xbox pirates for years, and it’s unlikely Microsoft would go after PCs with the same zeal.

The story behind the story: That said, there are many real privacy concerns with Windows 10 where Microsoft really is grabbing data from your PC. But often this data is anonymized and about delivering better security, gathering telemetry data, or improving online services such as Cortana.

If you are concerned about Windows 10’s EULA, however, you are free to read the actual document on Microsoft’s site, and here’s the pre-installed OEM version. Notice that the only mention of counterfeit software deals with activation of Windows itself.

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