PhotoMicrosoft launched the Windows 10 operating system in late July, and critics soon responded by launching what's been a near-constant barrage of stories detailing the various ways Windows 10 violates users' privacy.

Windows 10: a "privacy nightmare"

Slate almost immediately dubbed Windows 10 a “privacy nightmare,” because “By default, Windows 10 gives itself the right to pass loads of your data to Microsoft’s servers, use your bandwidth for Microsoft’s own purposes, and profile your Windows usage.”

A week later, BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow noted that Windows 10 “automatically spies on your children and sends you a dossier of their activity” (without informing children or their parents).

Critics worried about the obvious Orwellian implications of such a policy. “Now we are teaching children from the youngest age their every motion is being digitally watched & they should self-censor as appropriate,” as “Glitch Girl” @mcclure111 later posted on Twitter. “When I was a kid I was terrified of my parents, and I ran to computers because it was the one place that was safe, where I could keep myself …. Maybe soon there will be a generation of children who has no space at all.”

By last week, less than a month after the first Windows 10 rollout, the overwhelming consensus was, as PC World said, that “There’s no doubt about it: Windows 10 is veritably infused with data-tracking tidbits and hooks into all sorts of Microsoft’s online services.”

Revisions to Windows 7 and 8

Also last week, Microsoft revised its service agreements to Windows 7, 8, and 8.1, with the intention of blocking unauthorized or pirated games and software. But the end result, as Forbes put it, is that “Windows 10 worst feature [is] installed on Windows 7 and Windows 8.” first discovered and reported on the Windows 7 and 8 revisions on Aug. 28, under the innocuous headline “Microsoft intensifies data collection on Windows 7 and 8 systems.”

The blog post itself uses more pointed language, saying that “The operating system slurps data like there is no tomorrow, especially when systems are set up using the express settings. … it is nearly impossible to stop all of the data collecting that is taking place. While users may disable some, for instance by using privacy tools (of which there are plenty), others cannot be disabled or stopped that easily, for instance because of hardcoded host and IP address information that bypass the Hosts file of the operating system.”

Avoiding privacy problems

The simplest way to avoid the worst privacy problems in the Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 updates is to not install them in the first place. If they've already been installed, it's possible to disable some of them either by using the Control Panel (instructions here), or by using an elevated command prompt to run the following commands:

  • wusa /uninstall /kb:3068708 /quiet /norestart

  • wusa /uninstall /kb:3022345 /quiet /norestart

  • wusa /uninstall /kb:3075249 /quiet /norestart

  • wusa /uninstall /kb:3080149 /quiet /norestart

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