It looks like Microsoft’s penchant for collecting its users’ data may get it in more trouble, with a worrying new report suggesting that it's sharing more information from emails sent by the new Outlook for Windows app than people may know.
This is particularly concerning as most people check their emails daily, to keep up with friends and family, or send important documents and information at work, and with the Outlook for Windows app now being the default program for emails in Windows 11, this discovery could impact a lot of people
MSPoweruser reports that the team behind ProtonMail, an end-to-end encrypted email service and competitor to Microsoft Outlook, has discovered the worrying scale of user data being collected by Outlook for Windows, which reportedly includes your emails, contacts, browsing history, and possibly even location data.
ProtonMail’s blog post goes so far as to call Outlook for Windows “a surveillance tool for targeted advertising”, a harsh comment, certainly, but people who downloaded the new Outlook for Windows app have encountered a disclaimer that explains how Microsoft and hundreds of third parties will be helping themselves to your data.
It seems like the majority of the data is being used primarily for advertising purposes, with users having to opt out of sharing their data for each of the 772 companies manually. This means that by default you may be sharing a heck of a lot of information, and if you wish to opt out, the process is time-consuming and annoying.
Here we go again ...
Microsoft has a rather dubious past of being quite greedy with user data. This time last year you might remember our report detailing serious privacy concerns users had with Windows 11, with the PC Security Channel uploading a YouTube video that demonstrated that before you even connect to the internet or open an app, Windows 11 was collecting and sending data to Microsoft - and possibly third-party servers.
That being said, we should remember that ProtonMail is a direct competitor of Microsoft’s email apps and services, and the team behind it would be very keen to direct criticism at Outlook for Windows. ProtonMail is a service dedicated to user privacy and keeping users' email (as well as calendar, file storage, and VPN) encrypted, so we do have to keep in mind the team’s motives for highlighting this, as the company would want to make its privacy and security look much better than Outlook.
We also have to consider the fact that Outlook for Windows is a free app, so you could argue that Microsoft can support the app and continue adding features by providing user data to paying third parties. Regardless, while you can technically opt out of the data sharing, it’s still cheeky of Microsoft to have the opt-out option be a per-advertiser toggle click rather than a simple ‘reject all’ button. But, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Opt out as fast as you can!
If all of this has you concerned and itching to opt out entirely, we’ve got you covered. Head over to the General section of your Outlook for Windows settings and you should see an option called ‘Advertising Preferences’. When you click that you’ll see a large list of company names and toggles near their name set to ‘enable’.
Unless you create a brand new Outlook email, from what we can tell there’s no single button that will deselect all of them, so you may have to set some time aside to sit down and deselect them all. Each advertiser has an option for you to read more about their privacy policies, and once you open that you’ll see another option to opt out.
I created a new Outlook email account just to test it out, and the option to reject all did pop up when Outlook for Windows first opened, and I also have the option to deselect all the advertising preferences at once in the Settings page as well, though that might not appear for people who have already set up the app with an existing Outlook account.
If sharing our data by default is the price we have to pay for free apps like Outlook for Windows, at least Microsoft seems to have made turning off that sharing easier than ProtonMail’s team have made out. Still, this shows that it’s well worth paying attention to user agreements and disclaimers for free apps, especially from Microsoft, so you know exactly how much of your data you’re sharing - and who has access to it.