Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Windows 10 Quietly Includes Opt-Out Ad Targeting

Alec Meer at Rock Paper Shotgun:

People aren’t so hot on paying for things these days, which means the money comes from harvesting data and flogging it to advertisers and other organisations who want to know exactly what we’re all up to online. Microsoft want a piece of that, so if you ever wondered why they’ve made the Windows 10 upgrade free to Win 7 & 8 users, here’s one possible answer. Windows 10 has all sorts of user tracking baked right in.

Importantly, you can opt out of what seems to be all this stuff (time will tell) either during installation or afterwards, though Microsoft swaddle it in a combination of dissembling “hey, this stuff’ll really help you get the information you want’ fluff and 45 pages of service agreement documents. I’ll refer you here and here for a detailed breakdown of the really worrying stuff, but the long and short of it is the operating system assigns you a unique advertising ID, which is is tied to the email address you’ve associated with Windows and fed data from a great many facets of your computer usage. Including the contents of messages and calendars, apps and networks, some purchases and whatever you upload to Microsoft’s unreliable OneDrive cloud storage. Using the Cortana search assistant makes the harvest even more aggressive, and of course the OS claims it’s all in the name of a better, more accurate online experience for you.

The amount of information gathered by Windows 10 at the core system level is pretty worrying from a privacy standpoint. Is it entirely unreasonable that the most basic versions of Windows will one day have contextual ads cluttering up system applications? “Looks like it’s going to be hot and sunny for your picnic on Saturday. Do you have sunscreen?”, or something like that.

I think the thing that perturbs me most is how all of these privacy-invasive technologies are wrapped in the eerily vague language of improving the user experience. First of all, no; second of all, says who? Users? I doubt it.