Computers running Windows 10 could be automatically telling parents that their teens are visiting LGBT support websites – and emailing them details of their sexual fantasies.
The new operating system, which was rolled out last month as a free upgrade for users of Windows 7 and 8, has raised concern over the new ‘activity reports‘ feature.
The feature is enabled by default for users who have set up registered ‘family’ accounts, sending weekly breakdowns of browsing history to the parents – even if the kids browse anonymously or try to clear it.
Once active, the feature emails the parents a weekly summary of all the child’s internet usage, including the details of websites visited.
The tool also specifically flags up search terms and blocked content that children tried to access – meaning that teens experimenting with their sexuality could have their sexual fantasies emailed directly to their parents.
PinkNews made an account for a fictional child to try the feature and see whether it could be used to ‘out’ someone. Our ‘child’ visited websites including LGBT charity Stonewall, teen support site BGIOK, and PinkNews – as well as attempting to visit gay porn websites.
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Attempts to access pornographic content was specifically flagged up in the report to the ‘parent’ account – naming the specific gay website the child had attempted to view, as well as all search terms used on search engines.
It also tracked the attempts to visit gay-related non-adult websites, ordered by the number of times the child viewed the sites – all of which could conceivably be used to access legitimate anti-bullying or coming out advice.
Browsing anonymously and clearing internet history, the tools of many a closeted teen to date, did not seem to make a difference to the surveillance.
The report received by the ‘parent’ in our experiment gave more than enough information to out the fictional child – and though our fictional family is probably accepting, many very real ones may not be.
PinkNews did receive one small notification at the bottom-right of the screen while first browsing on the child’s account, warning that activity may be monitored – though the child was not informed when the parent viewed the details.
Microsoft say the feature includes “regular activity report emails summarising how much time they spent on the PC, the websites they visited, the games and apps they used, and the terms they’ve looked up in search engines”.
Author and digital rights campaigner Cory Doctorow has also flagged up concerns about the “creepy ass” system, sharing a reader’s message to young users warning: “If you have Windows 10 now, your parents might be getting the same kind of report I did. Don’t assume your own computer has your back.”