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The full extent of Windows 10's data sharing is slightly alarming

If you allow it, Microsoft gets access to detailed browser and file data.
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Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

Microsoft has repeatedly sworn that Windows 10 doesn't violate your privacy, but you've had to take its word on that when it hasn't outlined exactly what data it shares from your PC. At last, though, it's coming clean -- the company has started publishing a complete list of the diagnostic info it collects at the Basic level, and has posted a thorough summary of what it obtains at the Full level. While Microsoft already gave you a good sense of what to expect if you went with Full, the summary is much more thorough... and a little concerning given that it's the default level with a new Windows 10 installation.

For example, Windows collects a surprising amount of info about your media playback. It's not tracking what you're playing, but it will check how long you spent reading a Windows Store book, and will scoop up internet links if there's an error with online video. And when Microsoft says it looks at "browsing history and search terms," we now know just what it means -- that includes text you type in the address bar and Cortana searches. When you search for local files, Windows will collect the kind of search you performed, the number of items your query turned up and the name of the app you use to open a file from that search. It looks like Microsoft is steering clear of collecting particularly sensitive info, but there are incentives to choose Basic if you're privacy-minded.

With this in mind, Microsoft says it's promising to "refine" its data collection over time based on feedback. In the future, it'll also share how Windows 10 meets European data protection rules.

To some extent, the newfound transparency is a response to governments worried that Windows 10 is intruding on your privacy. French regulators believe the software's data collection goes too far by tracking non-essential info like app running times, while the EU is concerned that improvements in the Creators Update aren't good enough. A detailed explanation won't necessarily change officials' minds, but it might clear the air and make sure that any objections are based on what Microsoft is actually doing, not sensationalist stories.

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