Spy on me please

Windows 8 is very different from Windows 7 and everything else that came before it. This is not a review of the operating system, but I will go over one important piece of background information you need to know in order to understand this post: Windows 8 does not have a start menu — rather, it has a start screen that looks something like this [I’m too lazy to screenshot my own so I stole this one from Lifehacker]:

win8start

Those icons that appear on the start screen are called Apps, and you can either use the built-in Microsoft-made ones that came in the box, or you can download some others on your own. This is a wonderful idea in theory, and a better idea when you have a touchscreen (which I don’t), but the Windows 8 apps suffer from one very basic defect: they’re terrible.

The photo app — which is the default default (both defaults intentional) method for opening photos anywhere on your computer — is borderline unusable. And today I learned that the Sports app is also pretty bad. Here’s how Bing Sports — based, I imagine in Seattle — decided to present the sports news of the day:

Bing Sports priorities

I’m just going want to focus on the juxtaposition of the Boldin and Harvin trades because there’s basically no excuse for how Microsoft set them up:

  1. The Harvin story posted above was more recent. There should be a presumption that it is bigger and on top.
  2. It’s pretty clear which trade merits full-picture top-of-the-page billing on the basis of trade value alone. Even if you can’t meaningfully differentiate between Harvin and Boldin on any other grounds, just look at what they were traded for: a first, a third, and a seventh… or a sixth round draft pick.
  3. Microsoft should know what I want to read about. Why? I use a Windows 8 computer and a Windows Phone 8 (linked by Microsoft account to one another), and occasionally use Internet Explorer as well (10 really isn’t all that bad; still, I primarily use Chrome).

But Microsoft clearly either didn’t track my preferences, or opted not to use the information it did gather. And I think I have an idea why.

Microsoft has been aggressively trying to position itself as consumer-friendly, which it defines as anti-tracking. It raised the ire of other members of the tech community last year when it tried to set “do not track” as the default on Explorer 10, and its Scroogled ad campaign tried to highlight Google’s pervasive low-level invasion of your privacy.

But while it’s certainly nice of Microsoft not to do much snooping — seeing as to how the sort of information it might gather could be put to nefarious purposes — it doesn’t follow that I don’t want anything tracking me at all. At a certain point, the information deficit actually hurts the consumer: this is my computer, and I have no problem with Microsoft using that information to tailor what it feeds me to what I would like to consume.

Microsoft abandoned “Scroogled” one week ago; hopefully, it learned the right lesson — but probably not.

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