If you have been running the non-Enterprise (i.e., consumer grade) version of Windows 7 or 8, you may have been nagged by the little white icon stating that you are eligible for the free Windows 10 upgrade as long as you claim it quickly.
“Never look a gift horse in the mouth while its trying to mount you” (Anonymous Coward on Slashdot).
But if you are concerned about your privacy, perhaps you should.
Why should you be worried? “Windows 10 has a number of built-in data collections tools enabled by default, such as sending physical whereabouts, Web browser history, contacts and calendar records, and “typing and linking” data, among other telemetry, to Microsoft servers.” (Uncomfortable with Windows 10 slurping personal data? Too bad — Microsoft rolls out similar snooping capabilities to Windows 7, Windows 8).
Apparently Windows 10 does not have a key logger, but it does collect your keystrokes (How to secure Windows 10: The paranoid’s guide). What is the difference?
And if you have already installed Windows 10, “as long as you’ve upgraded within the last month, you can uninstall Windows 10 and downgrade your PC back to its original Windows 7 or Windows 8 operating system. You can always upgrade to Windows 10 again later.” (How to Uninstall Windows 10 and Downgrade to Windows 7 or 8.1).
Is your privacy safe with Windows 7 or 8? Your automatic updates may have already installed KB3022345, KB3068708, KB3080149 and/or KB3075249 (Microsoft accused of adding spy features to Windows 7, 8) which includes some of the data collection facilities in Windows 10. You can uninstall the offensive updates and only allow critical updates (which may still allow MS to slip in their offensive updates).
If you are concerned about your privacy, your best alternative is to switch your operating system to Linux or BSD systems. Debian Linux is one of the better operating in terms of privacy, but you will need to spend some time configuring this OS. I’ve opted for Ubuntu Desktop on my notebooks as it is simpler to install and use. Note that Ubuntu has some privacy issues, sending your search results to Amazon and Ubuntu. This can currently be switched off easily in System Settings as recommended in section 8.5 of the UK Government End User Devices Guidance: Ubuntu 14.04 LTS. And I’m ready to jump back to Debian if Ubuntu decides to have more invasive privacy policies. There is no Microsoft Office for Linux, but you get LibreOffice for free.
Is you privacy safe with Apple iOS (iPads and iPhones) or OSX (Macbooks)? Not if you have iCloud enabled as discussed in the UK Government End User Devices Guidance for iOS 8 and OSX 10.10. And I suspect that there is more data leakage than what the recommendations have stated.
How about Androids? Not with the big G in charge! I have replaced the Android OS for my phones in the past with Cyanogen’s Android, but it has recently been commercialised (Cyanogen’s New Partnerships Raise Privacy Concerns).
Don’t worry about the above if you happy using Android and Chrome OK Google, Apple Siri or Microsoft Cortana. Your microphone is always switched on and sending back data to the servers listening out for your voice commands, and more. And don’t worry if you are already on F*book, Twitter or LinkedIn. Just remember that you can never delete your data once collected, even if you pay $20 to Ashley Madison.
For Enterprise and Server versions of Windows 10 users, your IT department may be able to turn off the data collection features (Windows 10 Updates U-Turn: Microsoft Details Changes).