Compliance Management, Privacy

Windows 10 shares user data with Microsoft, even after disabling settings

While Microsoft offers users a free upgrade to its Windows 10 operating system, its flashy new offerings come packaged with something more sinister: settings that have privacy advocates concerned.

The company's new privacy policy, the checkbox of which is automatically checked during upgrades, allows for tons of data to be sent back to Microsoft, including users' locations and typing patterns. Much of this data relates to the built-in digital assistant Cortana.

That said, some of these sharing features can be turned off, albeit at the loss of certain functionality, including Cortana. Ars Technica reported that predicative web browsing, connection to open Wi-Fi hot spots and Wi-Fi sense can be disabled, as well as allowing apps to use users' advertising ID for “experiences across apps” and error reporting.

Even still, the online publication noted that Windows 10 will continue sending data to Microsoft after certain settings are turned off. As one example, with Cortana and searching online from the Start menu disabled, opening Start and issuing a request to the company's Bing-powered search engine for a file called “threshold.appcache” will contain Cortana information. It also contains a random machine ID that exists after reboots.

The apparent automatic data sharing worries privacy advocates, but they also recognize a tradeoff of user data for a free OS. In return for valuable data, users are gifted an operating system.

Calling Microsoft's blatant sharing “troubling,” Greg Wasson, program manager for ICSA Labs, said in an interview with that he hopes the company just overlooked its privacy policy.

“One way I look at it is it's the early days [of the operating system], so maybe Microsoft will tighten some of the stuff up,” he said. “It wasn't rushed, but it came out quicker than previous operating systems. Maybe it was an oversight, maybe not.”

Microsoft hasn't yet responded to's request for comment.

UPDATE: Microsoft responded to's request for comment. A company spokesperson said: “As part of delivering Windows 10 as a service, updates may be delivered to provide ongoing new features to Bing search, such as new visual layouts, styles and search code. No query or search usage data is sent to Microsoft, in accordance with the customer's chosen privacy settings. This also applies to searching offline for items such as apps, files and settings on the device. To learn more about customer privacy please view the Microsoft Privacy Statement.”

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