What Microsoft knows about us when we use Office

Microsoft knows about us our spelling mistakes

Microsoft sends data to the cloud to, among other things, improve its spell checker.

Microsoft Office continues to be the most widely used office suite, especially in the corporate sphere. That means that many have no alternative but to use it. And now that their default privacy settings have changed, send them data. Let's see what Microsoft knows about us when we use their tools.

In fact, Microsoft advised of those changes that affect versions from build 1904. A wizard informs you why this data is being collected. You just have to press OK. Or, do what no one else does, take the trouble to read the documentation.

Don't worry, we did it for you.

I want to clarify that I am not Stallman. I use Microsoft products and understand that providing this information is the price for a better user experience. What seems wrong to me is that the least privacy settings are configured by default. It is also not very intuitive to find out how to modify it if one changed their mind later. Just in case, the plans to break into the White House, steal the nuclear missile codes, and launch them against competing blogs, I wrote on Vim.

But what does Microsoft know about us?

When we start for the first time any of the applications of the office suite, or we open the privacy configuration wizard, we find the following message:

“When you entrust your data to Office, you remain the owner of it. It is our policy not to use, or let others use it, for advertising purposes.

"We have updated Office privacy settings so you know what data we collect and how we use it"

We can divide the data into two types:

  • Diagnostic data.
  • Connected experience data

Diagnostic data

According to Microsoft, this data is collected to find and correct problems, identify and mitigate threats, and improve your experience. This data does not include your name or email address, file content, or information about non-Office applications.

There are two types of diagnostic data:

  • Required Collection Data: Helps identify problems with Office that may be related to device or software configuration. For example, it can help determine if an Office feature crashes more frequently in a particular version of the operating system, with recently introduced features, or when certain Office features are disabled.
  • Optional collection data: If the user decides to authorize Microsoft to collect it, it will provide more complete information about the use of the programs. Some examples of optional diagnostic data include data we collect about images that users insert into Word documents so that we can provide better image options, or data about how long it takes for a PowerPoint slide to appear on screen.

Data for connected experiences

Connected experiences involve two types of services:

  • Interaction of local content with Microsoft cloud services.
  • Download content from Microsoft servers to use locally.

The first type of experience includes analyzing texts to find spelling errors, translating into other languages, or converting web pages. Powerpoint presentations can also be transmitted to remote users or transformed into video. In the case of Excel, I use a lot of proprietary software because the time saved by its features is more useful to me than the freedom of being able to read and modify the code. We will create data or ask Microsoft servers to detect trends.

As for the second type of experiences, it refers to the possibility of downloading fonts, icons, graphics and 3d models. We can also insert content from other services such as videos and forms.

Alternatives to reduce what Microsoft knows about us

Microsoft is not the same company it was 15 years ago, and Satya Nadella is not Steve Ballmer. Nor is the market the same.

For starters, Microsoft is no longer interested in the desktop market or operating systems. Of course, you are not going to give up the money you still receive for licenses and technical support. But, little by little it is becoming a cloud services company. And cloud services require knowing more data from users.

I use proprietary software a lot because the time saved by its features is more useful to me than the freedom to read and modify the code. And also the documentation is usually more orderly and easier to find than that of free software. But, I do it with my eyes open. The way you communicate changes to your Office settings is a masterpiece of social engineering. It is written so that most people will read a couple of lines and click OK.

However, if you think that integration with the cloud is not worth sacrificing your privacy, here are some perfectly functional alternatives:

Office suites for the Windows desktop that do not send data.

  • LibreOffice: It is the most complete of the open source office suites and the one with the best compatibility with Microsoft Office formats of all its competitors. (Including proprietary software). It includes a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation program, a drawing program and a database manager. Its disadvantage is that it does not have a mobile application.
  • OpenOffice: It is the oldest of the open source office suites. Its development is slow since it has few collaborators, but when they release a new version you can be sure that it will not have problems. There is an application for Android mobiles but it is not recommended for screens smaller than 7 inches.
  • Softmaker Office / FreeOffice: It is primitive software. The first is paid, the second free. They work natively with Microsoft Office formats and have mobile apps.

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  1.   Filipo said

    It seems to me that the SoftMaker office suites are the ones that offer the best compatibility with Microsoft's proprietary formats. For the rest, at this point in the game, recommending OpenOffice is a ship-size nonsense.

  2.   Joselp said

    Both in my personal computer and in the work teams we use LibreOffice, and we have hardly had compatibility problems with other companies in terms of office documents.

    I haven't used Office for a long time and I don't miss it at all. Anyone who says that he cannot perform as a substitute for Office at a high level is deluding himself.

    At work there are more than 20 teams working with Libreoffice, Okular and Thunderbird as an office suite and without problems.

  3.   JBL said

    Yet another reason to use free software and open formats.

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