Windows 10 and Privacy: what you need to know

Much has been said about the privacy – or, rather, lack of – in Windows 10. Well, don’t worry about it, it is much ado about nothing.  Most of what’s been written is FUD or a poor understanding of what you can do in Windows 10. 

There are a couple of features in Windows 10 that seem to be causing the confusion: Cortana’s ‘learning’ you and WiFi Sense.

First, Cortana.

This just amazes me.  People can accept Siri on an iPad or iPhone and think nothing of it.  Same for Google Now. Yet, put Cortana on the desktop and people freak out. Doesn’t make sense: Cortana is doing the same thing that Siri and Google Now do. It sits there, learning what you browse, remembers what you search and gets to ‘know’ you.  What do you think Siri does? Heck, going to Google.com for your searches is just as intrusive. Use gmail? Well, guess what…Google reads your messages, looking for keywords to serve up more ads.  Oh, and it is looking for things that might trigger legal action too.  Just ask the guy who got nailed for pornographic pictures in his mail.

Never fear, though…you can turn off Cortana if you are still reluctant to use the feature. Goto Settings, Privacy and tap/click Speech, inking and typing.  Here, you can click/tap ‘Stop getting to know me’ and that will stop Cortana from learning and monitoring what you do.  While in the Privacy settings, you might want to turn off the following: Camera, Location, Microphone and everything in General. You will, of course, kill most of the functionality of many applications, but you will protect the little bit of privacy you may have left.

Yes, I am being sarcastic.  Turning off most of the features I mention will render things like Bing search, Google search and even maps, useless. 

Now, that doesn’t mean that EVERYTHING is OK.  On a desktop, with no touchscreen, there is no need to let Microsoft know how you write, so you can turn off that feature in Privacy->General. Also, you should turn off that bloody ‘Advertising ID’.  Finally, click the ‘Manage my Microsoft advertising and other personalization info’ link and change those settings accordingly. Want personalized ads? then don’t do anything, but, if you don’t want ads about panty hose showing up your Facebook timeline because your wife searched for them, then turn this off.

WiFi Sense

WiFi Sense is a feature that debuted with Windows Phone 8.1.  It does a lot, but nothing very scary.  If on, it will fill in, with bogus stuff, those nag screens in public wifi hot spots. It can ‘click’ the I agree buttons on those pages.  It maintains a list of hot spots and can map them for you.

More importantly, however, it allows you to give friends access to your home network with out giving them the password.  They MUST be using Windows devices for it to work, it will NOT work with, say, an iPhone.  And, it does not ‘give’ anyone your password. Once they leave, their device no longer ‘knows’ about your network.

Still worried?

Go through the settings application.  You will want to look through the privacy settings. Many are on by default, some are off, like Cortana. You do not have to let it even start collecting your data.  Simply reply ‘no’ when asked. You are asked the first time you search for something in Windows.

Wifi Sense can be turned off and you will still be able to use hotspots, but will have to give your friends your password.  It is YOUR decision.

Windows 10 is no more a privacy problem for you than anything else and, at least, you can control how much or how little privacy you keep.  Unlike with Google.

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Windows Phone 8.1: Worthy update

wp_ss_20140422_0002Windows Phone 8 was already a pretty decent mobile operating system, but the 8.1 update makes it more complete.  While no modern mobile OS is as good as webOS was, Windows Phone 8.1 comes awfully close and some nagging issues it had are gone.

After having used webOS for two years, I got really used to its nice way of managing running applications.  Bring up the card view, swipe left or right then swipe away the app you want closed. Easy. Apple ‘borrowed’ the notion for iOS 7 and made it work.  Microsoft, as is often their way, half assed it: they allowed you to swipe left and right to SEE the open apps, but you had to actually go back in the app and shut it down. Not hard, but not simple and not elegant. Well, they fixed it with a simple, if in-elegant way: hold down the back button, swipe left or right to the app and tap the big X in the circle. Effective, if ugly.

Fortunately, other things are much nicer.

Speed, for one.  The over experience seems a bit snappier, but it could also be that ‘new OS install’ factor. We will see, in a couple of months, if it persists.

The Start page is a bit more customizable. You can now have more tiles across the screen. The number will depend on size of the tiles and the screen. You can now use a custom background as well. Be careful here, some of the live tiles may become unreadable if the background contains the same color as the live tile text.

Storage Sense is a nice new feature that not only lets you know about much of your phone’s storage is being used, but it also allows for the installation of apps to an SD card-something that was not previously allowed.  You can also tell Windows Phone to store your downloads on the SD card as well.

Of course, the BIG new feature is Cortana. Cortana is the new personal assistant from Microsoft that is designed to act like Siri or the Google Android equivalent.  Cortana can not only answer questions, but can also do things like add a calendar entry, to do item, set up ‘quiet time’ in which it will answer email, texts, phone calls, etc. It stops the phone from making any noise and lets the calling entity know why.  I have not fully tested this, so I cannot verify it does what it claims, but, if it works as well as the rest of Cortana, then it should be fine. 

This is a worthy upgrade and one that really cleans and polishes some of Windows Phone’s dirtier corners.  It is not perfect, but none of the others are either (well, save for the aforementioned webOS. Have I mentioned how much I liked webOS?) and stills need a bit more refinement.  For example, while overall performance is better, it seems to stumble when reloading the Start page. Some times it comes right up, other times…not at all or very, very slowly.  To be fair, I am running the developer preview, which is supposed to be the shipping bit but without any carrier or phone optimization, which means there are no device specific drivers or other such things to make the overall experience optimal for the device. It also speaks volumes for the work that Microsoft has done: the developer preview will work on ANY Windows Phone 8 device. As is.  That says a lot right there.

** If you wish to take the plunge now and not wait for the official release, you can go here to get instructions on how to update your Windows Phone 8 device to 8.1. NOTE: it is a one way ticket, you cannot revert back to Windows Phone 8 and you WILL lose carrier support (not service) until the ‘official’ release is out. This means, if you upgrade to the dev release and then have a problem using your device, your carrier will not assist you.  Now, if you want to continue…click the link. (The link takes you to Paul Thurrot’s WinSupersite. The article is dated, but the instructions still work.