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Windows 10 might be spying on you even after you tell it to stop

Published Aug 13th, 2015 9:15AM EDT
Windows 10 Cortana Search Privacy Settings

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One of the main concerns with Microsoft’s Windows 10 platform concerns privacy. The operating system has various features that need to access your private data to work properly. At the same time, Microsoft wants to deliver you better Bing search results and ads. In its defense, the company makes it clear in its terms of service that it’s tracking you, and there are ways to stop all the tracking without compromising your Windows 10 experience. But what if the privacy-infringing settings you thought you just turned off aren’t off? 

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According to Ars Technica, even after you tell Microsoft that Windows 10 shouldn’t make any Internet-related inquiries while you’re using it, it appears that Windows 10 still pings Microsoft for various information.

With Cortana and searching the web from the Start menu disabled, the news site discovered that a request to is still made for a file called threshold.appcache that contains some Cortana information. The request for the file contains a random machine ID that persists across reboots, even though Cortana is turned off during this time.

It also seems Microsoft keeps sending data to its servers via its Live Tiles. Windows 10 seems to download new tile info from Microsoft even if you clear all the tiles from the Start menu, and it uses unencrypted HTTP to do so. Ars argues that while the requests do not contain any identifying information, they shouldn’t be made in the first place since there’s no corresponding tile for them.

Furthermore, Microsoft might be collecting telemetry settings from Windows 10 machines even when such a feature is disabled.

More disturbingly, Windows 10 appears to be able to make requests to a content delivery network by bypassing any HTTP and HTTPS proxies that may be set up by the user to monitor Internet traffic.

Microsoft told Ars that whatever communication takes place between a Windows 10 computer and Microsoft is only there to facilitate the retrieval of updates.

“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,” Microsoft said.

Ars says the statement is consistent with its findings. There is no query or search data transmitted. But at the same time the practice appears to be a bit on the shady side of business.

“[If] Web searching and Cortana are disabled, we suspect that the inference that most people would make is that searching the Start menu wouldn’t hit the Internet at all. But it does. The traffic could be innocuous, but the inclusion of a machine ID gives it a suspicious appearance,” Ars wrote.

The full post detailing the tech site’s findings is available at the source link.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.