Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Why You Might Not Want to "Upgrade" to Windows 10

When we bought our last family computer, I did some research and decided on a system that used Windows 8.1 because I would get the following features:
  • Each child could have their own account.

  • The accounts could be local, without each child having to register with some big corporation that would be collecting data on their every move.

  • Parents could control when children got on the computer.

  • Individual children could have specific time limits when they could use the computer and the computer would be keeping track of the time so there would be no arguing that what seemed like five minutes was really an hour.

  • There were options for limiting websites and downloads.

  • Parents can get weekly reports on how much time children have been on the computer and what they have been doing.

  • Parents can override certain functions on a case by case basis.

These features and others are lumped together into something called "Family Safety." I have recommended them to many parents, and do so again.

Recently I upgraded to Windows 10 for one of my computers and it fixed one of the recurring glitches I had been having. That was well done. Windows 10 also has a much better start menu than Windows 8.1. There are other improvements, but I have not really noticed them yet.

This experience led me to upgrade to Windows 10 on the family computer. That was a huge mistake. Every reason for which I got a Windows 8.1 computer instantly vanished. Windows 10 converted all the family safety accounts into regular accounts with no possibility of converting them back to family safety accounts. No controls or limitations of any sort could be put on the accounts.

Windows 10 still offers something it calls "family safety" but in a form which makes me feel anything but safe.

In Windows 10 to create any sort of account (temporary, local, family) you have to register with Microsoft so that they can collect the following information on you and your kids and anyone else who uses your computer (and I quote from Microsoft's own (lack of) privacy statements):
  • "your first and last name, email address, postal address, phone number, and other similar contact data."

  • "passwords, password hints, and similar security information"

  • "demographic data . . . such as your age, gender, country and preferred language"

  • "your interests and favorites, such as the teams you follow, . . . the stocks you track, . . . or the favorite cities your add to a weather app. In addition to those you explicitly provide, your interests and favorites may also be inferred ro derived from other data we collect"

  • "payment data . . . if you make purchases, such as your payment instrument number (such as a credit card number), and the security code associated with your payment instrument."

  • "usage data . . . such as the features you used, the items you purchase, the web pages you visit, the search terms you enter . . . you device, including IP address, device identifiers, regional and language settings, and data about the network, operating system, browser or other software you use."

  • "your contacts and relationships."

  • "your locations, which can be precise or imprecise . . . Global Position System (GPS) data, as well as data identifying nearby cell towers and Wi-Fi hotspots, . . . your IP address . . . city or postal code"

  • "content of your files and communications . . . your documents, photos, music or video . . . 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"
Additionally, Microsoft says that they "also obtain data from third parties (including other companies)" about you.

This, of course, is precisely why a parent might want to create a local account and not register their children with Microsoft data collection.

Supposedly, by registering your children with Microsoft on every device you use the same controls will apply across the board to all devices running Microsoft. I can see some advantages to this but also some disadvantages. I can see reasons why a parent might want to have different devices have different settings. Perhaps you want your child doing their homework between the time they get home and when the family eats dinner and so want the computer available at that time, and you will let them play the X-box only after dinner on the assumption that their homework is done. In that case you would want different settings for different devices.

So there are some legitimate concerns why parents might not want to upgrade to Windows 10.

What if, like I did, you made the mistake of upgrading?

You can downgrade back to Windows 8.1 if it has been less than a month since you upgraded.

Simply click on the Start menu

Go to "Settings" (which is in the bottom left-hand corner and has the gear icon next to it). Then go to "Update & Security" which is in the lower right of the menu options. Then go to "Recovery" which is the fourth option down on the left-hand side. Then select the option "Go back to Windows 8.1". It took less time than upgrading to Windows 10. I did have to reenter wireless router passwords but all my family's accounts and old family safety settings were still there.

When you downgrade, Microsoft will ask for feedback about why you want to downgrade. I listed some of my concerns about the lack of real Family Safety in Windows 10.

Is it hypocritical for a parent to track her children's computer activities and complain when Microsoft does it? Possibly. But there are some key differences. (1) Parents have a responsibility to train their children in how to use tools (including computers) responsibly; Microsoft does not. (2) Parents are only tracking their own children, not everyone's children. (3) Parents need not use all the tracking tools; they can be customized to the child and the situation but one never knows if Microsoft is using the tracking tools or how.

It is nice that Microsoft is at least pretending to provide tools of some sort to parents, but who will protect your kids from Microsoft?