Microsoft Previews New Privacy Options in Response to Critics

By:  Shirley Siluk

Developers and others in Microsoft’s Windows Insiders program are getting a first look at new privacy options to control what kinds of user information the company can access for the purpose of improving its products and services.
Microsoft said the new privacy settings will roll out to customers with the next Windows 10 update this spring. Released to Insiders yesterday, the latest preview version of Windows 10 also fixes a number of existing bugs that cause the operating system to load incorrectly or crash.

Meanwhile, Microsoft executive Joe Belfiore revealed in a comment on Twitter yesterday that next year Microsoft plans to demote its Windows 10 S operating system to a mode rather than continuing to support it as a completely distinct version of Windows. Microsoft had positioned Windows 10 S, released just last May, as its “lightweight” operating system alternative to Google’s Chrome OS.
Seeking ‘Multiple Points of View’ on Privacy

Since releasing Windows 10 in July 2015, Microsoft has been criticized for the amount of data the operating system collects about users and sends back to the company for analysis. Microsoft says such information helps it improve its products and services, but privacy advocates and regulators haven’t always agreed.
Authorities in France, for example, took formal action against Microsoft in 2016 for “excessive collection of personal data,” although they closed that case in June after the company introduced a new privacy dashboard and other changes.

With the latest privacy update now being tested by Windows Insiders, Microsoft is adding two new options to let users control the data gathered while using tools for typing, inking, and device location. Insiders will see different versions of the new privacy interface, allowing Microsoft to see which options might work best for a wider audience.

“By offering multiple experiences to our Insiders, we’re able to hear multiple points of view, along with preferences on the best set up experience that showcases privacy set up choices,” Marisa Rogers, privacy officer for Microsoft’s Windows & Devices Group, wrote yesterday in a blog post.

Other updates in the Windows 10 preview build released yesterday are aimed at fixing glitches that users might have encountered with OneDrive files, the Microsoft Store, Windows Mixed Reality, and touchpad/touch keyboard usage.

Future of 10 S ‘Mode’ TBD

Citing new data from the U.K.-based research consultancy Futuresource, Microsoft yesterday also highlighted the growing use of Windows 10 devices in K-12 education. Futuresource reported that Google’s Chromebooks continue to dominate the U.S. school market, with a 59.6 percent share in the fourth quarter of 2017, but added that Microsoft has seen growing adoption through its expanding lineup of lower-cost, education-focused Windows devices.

However, PCWorld senior editor Mark Hachman noted in a tweet yesterday that Futuresource’s report did not specifically mention Windows 10 S. When it released Windows 10 S last year, Microsoft said it had developed the OS based on feedback from students, teachers, and school administrators around the world.

In a reply to Hachman, Microsoft’s Belfiore wrote on Twitter, “We use Win10 S as an option for schools or businesses that want the ‘low-hassle’/guaranteed performance version. Next year 10 S will be a ‘mode’ of existing versions, not a distinct version. SO . . . I think it’s totally fine/good that it’s not mentioned.”

It’s unclear for now what such a change might mean for people who bought devices built on Windows 10 S, which has since also been targeted at “first-line” employees who deal directly with customers. Users can currently upgrade such devices to the full version of Windows 10 for a $50 fee.