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Install Windows 10 Yet? Check the Disturbing Terms of Service

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By William Peacock, Esq. on October 07, 2014 9:38 AM

Geeks worldwide flocked to Microsoft's website last week to take part in the company's public beta of the next version of its ubiquitous operating system: Windows 10. However, word quickly spread that the Windows Technical Preview program's terms were far more invasive than the commercial variant, giving Microsoft surprisingly pervasive permission to collect and use your private data, including your keystrokes.

Is the uproar justified? And should you think twice about participating in the program? Let's take a look at the terms and the public's response.

Is Microsoft Using a Keylogger?

The Inquirer was one of the first to break the story over the weekend, with a piece claiming that the "'privacy' policy includes permission to use a keylogger."

The actual policy provides examples of what you are permitting Microsoft to monitor, including "when you:

  • use voice input features like speech-to-text, we may collect voice information and use it for purposes such as improving speech processing,
  • open a file, we may collect information about the file, the application used to open the file, and how long it takes any use it [sic] for purposes such as improving performance, or
  • enter text, we may collect typed characters and use them for purposes such as improving autocomplete and spellcheck features."

In shorter, plain English, Microsoft can collect what you say, what you type, and what files you open. The Inquirer compares the last provision to a keylogger -- malware that captures every single one your keystrokes, including passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive data.

Welcome to Beta Testing

Taking the opposite stance was Softonic, which argued that Microsoft isn't using a keylogger and that giving up some data is the price one pays to be a part of the beta testing program.

Softonic is right about that last part -- pretty much every piece of software now asks to "collect anonymous usage data" in order to improve the product. And Microsoft's request isn't that far off from standard practices. For example, voice data is sent by Apple (Siri) and Google (Google Now) to those companies.

And while the prospect of Microsoft tracking keystrokes in programs is a bit unusual and frightening, it all comes down to a matter of trust: Do you trust that Microsoft is using the data for non-nefarious purposes, like making Windows 10 more stable and release-ready? The term "keylogger" carries certain implications of stolen data and passwords, something Microsoft wouldn't do unless it was looking to commit corporate suicide.

If you're uncomfortable with Microsoft watching what you do, don't opt-in and install the Windows 10 Technical Preview. The retail version will almost certainly come with more restrictive privacy terms, but for now, Microsoft wants to collect as much data as possible to make Windows 10 work as well as possible.

For us privacy-conscious lawyers, installing Windows 10 on your main PCs is a terrible idea anyway, as these pre-release versions will likely be buggy and unstable. Add in the privacy considerations, and there's no way you should be handling client data on a Windows 10 preview system.

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