Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, says he cares about your privacy. He wants to make sure “you get meaningful choices about how and why data is collected and used”. Except those “meaningful choices” don’t really include the “how” because where data collection is concerned, you really have no choice.
Further on he says, “We will put you in control of your privacy with easy-to-use tools and clear choices”, but there aren’t any choices — at least about the basic information Microsoft collect.
Their Privacy Statement spells it out, but the details are carefully hidden away. Take the first item, Personal Data We Collect, for example. You’ll find an anodyne, 95-word description followed by the next heading, How We Use Personal Data, but only by clicking the Learn More link do you find the full 800-word horror.
Here’s a summary of what they collect:
- first and last name
- email address
- postal address
- phone number
“and other similar contact data“
- password hints
- security information used for authentication and account access.
- your age
- preferred language
Interests and favourites
Your interests and favourites, (sports teams, the stocks you follow, favourite cities, cars, etc.)
“In addition to those you explicitly provide, your interests and favorites may also be inferred or derived from other data we collect.”
Just think about that for a moment. It’s a biggie. They’ll infer, with some degree of accuracy, your income, political sympathies, occupation, socio-economic standing, health status and health concerns, marital status, sexual preferences, personal problems, family life, number of offspring, their ages … the list goes on and on …
- credit card numbers and the security codes associated with them
So much for that CCV code on the back of your card!
Program usage data
- the features you use
- the items you purchase
- the web pages you visit
- the search terms you enter
This also includes data about your device, the network you use, IP address, device identifiers (such as the unique IMEI number in phones), regional and language settings, information about the operating systems and other software installed on your device (including product keys).
Contacts and relationships
- Data about your contacts and relationships, with other people and organizations.
Your location, either precisely via GPS or Wi-Fi hotspots, or imprecisely via your IP address “or data that indicates where you are located … such as at a city or postal code level.”
“We collect content of your files and communications when necessary to provide you with the services you use … Examples of this data include: the content of your documents, photos, music or video you upload to a Microsoft service such as OneDrive, as well as the content of your communications sent or received using Microsoft services such Outlook.com or Skype, including the:
- subject line and body of an email,
- text or other content of an instant message,
- audio and video recording of a video message, and
- audio recording and transcript of a voice message you receive or a text message you dictate. “
But sometimes all that’s just not enough:
“… we supplement the data we collect by purchasing demographic data from other companies.”
And, no doubt, they sell it too.
Of course, Microsoft aren’t alone in capturing vast swathes of personal data about us. Google and Facebook are a couple of standout examples. But Microsoft – with its unique position as the world’s Number One operating system supplier – is perfectly placed to be become the first integrated 24/7 global surveillance system, whether it’s via your daily interactions with Windows 10, Office and Outlook.com, via your gaming activities on Xbox, your searches on Bing, the files you store on OneDrive, your personal chats on Skype, or your work history and CV on LinkedIn.
If Satya Nadella really wanted to provide us with a choice about who’s looking over our shoulders, Microsoft would produce a neutral, open source operating system from which users could make their own informed choices.
Actually, there’s no need. We already have one. It’s call Linux.