Is Windows 10 spying on me? I have been asked this question over and over. My answer may surprise you!

There has been considerable publicity about Windows 10 being used as a spying tool for Microsoft. Blogs and even some fairly reputable websites have jumped on this bandwagon. Most of this publicity is aimed at making headlines to increase readership. As you well know, today’s news is dominated by racy headlines, even if they are sometimes trumped up. Some of this bad Microsoft publicity is focused on increasing public paranoia to sell products.

One of my followers recently sent me a copy of an audio interview of Dr. Katherine Albrecht in which she trashed Windows 10 in an article entitled “Windows 10 is full blown electronic tyranny.” Dr. Albrecht is a very intelligent, articulate, and well-educated lady. In this interview she says that Windows 10 keeps the microphone turned on all the time to bug homes and offices across the country. She says that Microsoft is making a copy of every file you create with Windows 10. However she also uses this interview to promote her Startmail product which is supposed to keep you safer.

Let’s see if I can negate a few of her claims. First, Windows 10 uses your microphone to let you verbally communicate with Cortana, their new virtual assistant. Cortana is not listening all the time unless you change the settings and request that she does so. With the default settings, Cortana will only listen when you press the microphone button just like you would press the home button on an iPhone or iPad to ask Siri a question. Also, it is very easy to turn Cortana off or alternately to turn off your microphone completely.

Dr. Albrecht also says that Microsoft is sending the entire contents of all Windows 10 hard drives to their servers. Simply put, Microsoft is not copying all your files or documents. In the last month Windows 10 has been installed on 75 million devices. If Microsoft were to keep a copy of every one of those hard drives, we would be talking about thousands of Petabytes of data. To give you an idea of how much data that is, it is estimated that the entire written works of mankind from the beginning of recorded history in all languages would take up about 50 Petabytes. Simply copying that amount of data would take years plus an astronomical amount of storage space and electricity.

Another complaint is that Windows 10 can be set up to share Wi-Fi passwords. Again this is not turned on by default. You must choose to use it, and when you do, you must authorize it and the passwords are encrypted.

I can sum up the reality of this situation in one simple statement. With Windows 10, Microsoft is doing no more snooping, spying, or collecting data than other large companies like Apple, Google, and Amazon. I have read the Microsoft Services Agreement, the Windows license agreement, and the Microsoft Privacy Statement carefully. I have also looked at several privacy documents from Google and Apple. They all have similar clauses.

The bottom line is that if you use any cloud storage like Microsoft’s One Drive or Apple’s iCloud, if you use an online email system like Gmail, Outlook, etc., or if you use services to sync your documents between computers and/or mobile devices, there is a copy of your data out there in the Cloud. Your cell phone provider, your ISP, your cable provider, your smart TV, and even your car knows a lot about you, as well. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites probably know more about you than you might ever expect. Most companies are using your data to learn more about you, whether to give you better service or to send you targeted ads. If they are subpoenaed, they will give your information to the lawful agencies, but then if you have drawn that kind of attention to yourself, those agents may be busting down your door and seizing your computers as well. 

Right now Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Amazon are not spying on you or willfully giving the contents of your hard drive to anyone. Of course, an entire company could go bad, but currently you are at more of a risk from the bad guys and hackers than you are from the major companies. There are a lot of really good security people constantly monitoring the dealings of all the major companies.

So don’t worry about Windows 10. It is no worse than Windows 7 or Mac OS X. If you want to be more secure, don’t subscribe to any cloud services, don’t use online email, and don’t expect your data to sync between devices. If you want to be really secure don’t access the Internet on your computer or tablet, don’t use a cell phone, and don’t buy a smart TV or any of the new Internet-connected devices, including a car.

Of course, if you do that you will be going back in time about 30 years. I know I wouldn’t want to give up the knowledge, connectivity, productivity or entertainment that we have gotten from these devices.

If you want to keep using Windows 10, but want a little more security, here is how you can adjust the settings.