Thursday, July 22, 2010

Windows Live = NO Privacy At All

One of the more technically oriented newsletters I receive regularly arrived with this article: Windows Live shares your Messenger contacts

Already in April 2010 I wrote about Microsoft and Privacy. Now on top of all that comes above mentioned article from the Windows Secrets newsletter. Again, in my opinion the author is a reputable man and a very experienced computer journalist; I trust his words.

You may want to wade waist deep through the original article; if you prefer to save yourself some time here are selected literal quotes:

With the new Live format, Microsoft pays a great deal of lip service to maintaining your privacy; but my tests show you can't trust what you see on the screen.

Now, imagine my surprise when I discovered that the so-called new and improved, privacy-conscious version of Windows Live — the social-networking sphere containing Messenger and Hotmail — continues to share my personal information, even when I explicitly tell it to keep my info and communications private.

Windows Live's most pernicious form of privacy invasion is what I call third-party tattling. Here's how it works: You and Mr. A have a conversation via Live Messenger. Days, weeks, or even months later, you and Mr. B also have a conversation. In Windows Live parlance, you are now friends with both Mr. A and Mr. B.
Tattling comes into play when Mr. A signs on to Messenger or Hotmail or Windows Live and sees that "[You] and Mr. B are now friends."

I'm sure you can think up many different scenarios where that kind of sharing could be quite embarrassing (even lethal) — an informational gold mine for business rivals, political opponents, love triangles, wanted nuclear scientists; you get the picture. To put it succinctly, it's none of Mr. A's freakin' business who else I've contacted with Messenger.

Microsoft tattles — dishes up lists of my new-found Friends every time they log on to Messenger, Hotmail, or the main Windows Live page.

Microsoft has taken Hotmail and Messenger accounts and turned them into Windows Live Spaces accounts. What's more worrisome, MS has also taken the liberty of converting your Messenger contacts into Friends. It then shares information about these new Friends with each other. To try to prevent this sharing (and, based on my tests, you can't), you have to navigate a mind-boggling labyrinth of privacy settings.

It has a bad odor to it. When I use Facebook, I fully expect that other people will be able to see what I'm doing. No problem — I would never use Facebook for sensitive business communications. But when I use Messenger, I expect it to be as private as a phone call.

I hope this is enough to keep you from using ANY of Microsoft’s Live services, be it Messenger, Hotmail, cloud storage or whatever other service under the umbrella of a Windows Live ID.

Please distinguish between services and some useful programs Microsoft freely offers as part of what currently is called Windows Live Essentials.

For example I write this blog with Windows Live Writer; it is a God-sent for me. Other Windows Live Essentials programs that some of my customers use – but I don’t have any experience with:

  1. Windows Live Movie Maker to edit family videos,
  2. Windows Live Photo Gallery for photo organizing and basic editing,
  3. Windows Live Family Safety to protect kids from Internet smut.

The big risk is that these programs are offered together with Live Messenger and Live Mail and every time you update one of them you again and again will get inundated with requests to set your home page to MSN, make Live Search (and/or Bing) your main search provider and to get a Windows Live ID. User beware!

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog. Thank you in advance.

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Fradique said...

Just found your blog and I'm loving the huge amount of useful information and knowledge that you share through it!
I'll try to read and learn the most from it and I just made it one of my favourites on FriendFeed :-)
About this particular issue of Windows Live and it's lack of privacy, what scaries me the most is that from Google you don't get better practices! So, do we stop socializing and chating over the internet?!?!
Because it seems to me that this will be the only solution to (sort of) «fight» these companies way of looking at our privacy

Eike Heinze said...

José, Thank you for liking what I write.
Short of what you suggest is only the constant awareness that EVERYTHING you put on Facebook, blog about, say in an Internet chat and so on will likely never go totally away, is potentially totally public and WILL be found by those people you don't want it to see...

Don't socialize with the "wrong" people and watch every word. That's it besides not having a Facebook page at all - like I do.

Again, Thanks for the post.