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Privacy Evaluation for Microsoft Cortana

Last updated October 7, 2019

Overview

Microsoft Cortana is an intelligent assistant that provides smart features and personalized experiences across a variety of devices, apps, and services. The terms of Microsoft state a child can access social communication services, like Outlook and Skype, and can freely communicate and share data with other trusted and untrusted users of all ages. Microsoft's terms state the personal information Cortana collects depends on the choices a user makes (including their privacy settings and whether or not they are signed-in), the data they share with Cortana, and Cortana’s capabilities (which vary depending on a user’s operating system, device, and the services and apps they use). Microsoft's terms state they are committed to protecting the security of users' personal data. Lastly, the terms state if a child tries to register for an account, Microsoft will ask them to provide consent or authorization from a parent or guardian before they can use the service.

Microsoft Cortana can be accessed through its website, and on Microsoft Windows and is available for download at the iOS App Store, and the Google Play Store. The Privacy Policy and Terms of Use used for this evaluation can be found on Microsoft’s website, iOS App Store, and the Google Play Store. This evaluation only considers policies that have been made publicly available prior to an individual using the application or service.

Additionally, other relevant policies used for this evaluation include:

Safety

The terms of Microsoft state a child can access social communication services, like Outlook and Skype, and can freely communicate and share data with other trusted and untrusted users of all ages. Microsoft's terms also state they provide services that allow users to send group messages to others via voice or SMS, and allow Microsoft and Microsoft-controlled affiliates to send messages to users and one or more other users on a user's behalf. The terms state that when users use social features in Microsoft products, other users in their network may see some of their activity. When users are signed in, some products will display a user's name or username and their profile photo (if a user has added one to their profile) as part of their use of Microsoft products, including in their communications, social interactions, and publicly available posts.

Parents and kids can use Microsoft family features to build trust based on a shared understanding of what behaviors, websites, apps, games, physical locations, and spending is right in their family. The terms state parents can create a family account by going to https://account.microsoft.com/family and inviting kids or other parents to join. There are many features available to family members, and the terms state parents should carefully review the information provided when they agree to create or join a family and when they purchase digital goods for family access.

Privacy

Microsoft's terms state the personal information Cortana collects depends on the choices a user makes (including their privacy settings and whether or not they are signed-in), the data they share with Cortana, and Cortana’s capabilities (which vary depending on a user’s operating system, device, and the services and apps they use). For example, Windows provides supported apps with the ability to respond and take action based on voice keywords that are specific to that app and allows Cortana to listen and respond to “Hey Cortana.” Cortana personalized recommendations work when a user signs in and allows Cortana to collect and use data from a user’s device, their Microsoft account, other Microsoft services, and third-party services to which a user may choose to connect. The terms state users can also choose to let Cortana collect and access their device and cloud-based email and other communications, their calendar, and their contacts to enable additional features and personalization. Also, the data Cortana collects is used to provide, improve, personalize, and develop Cortana and other Microsoft products. The terms state users can manage whether Cortana has access to a user’s search and browsing history, and what data Cortana knows about them in their Cortana Settings.

In addition, the terms state if users choose not to sign into Cortana, they can still chat with Cortana and use Cortana to search, using either their voice, inking, or typing, and can still receive non-personalized suggestions and responses. Cortana allows users to connect to third-party services to enable her to do more and provide additional personalized experiences based upon data collected from the third-party service. However, the terms do not disclose whether Microsoft may sell personal information to third parties, but does disclose that personal information is not used by Cortana to display behavioral advertising. Ads may still accompany search results that Cortana delivers, but are not targeted to the user. The terms also state ads that a user sees may be selected based on data Microsoft Cortana processes about them, such as their interests and favorites, their location, their transactions, how they use Microsoft's products, their search queries, or the content a user views. However, Microsoft's terms state they do not use what a user says in email, chat, video calls, or voice mail, or their documents, photos, or other personal files to target ads to users. Microsoft can use data they collect through their interactions with users, through some of their products, and on third-party web sites, for advertising in Microsoft products and on third-party web sites.

Lastly, the terms state Microsoft may use automated processes to help make advertising more relevant to users. Microsoft may partner with third-party ad companies to help provide some of their advertising services, and Microsoft also allows other third-party ad companies to display advertisements on their sites. These third parties may place cookies on a user's computer or devices and collect data about a user's online activities across websites or online services.

Security

Microsoft's terms state they are committed to protecting the security of users' personal data. They use a variety of security technologies and procedures to help protect a user's personal data from unauthorized access, use, or disclosure. For example, the terms state Microsoft stores the personal data users provide on computer systems that have limited access and are in controlled facilities. In addition, the terms state Microsoft uses collected data to protect the safety of their products and their customers. Microsoft's terms state their security features and products can disrupt the operation of malicious software and notify users if malicious software is found on their devices.

Microsoft's terms also state they use data they collect to develop product updates and security patches. For example, Microsoft may use information about a device’s capabilities, such as available memory, to provide users with a software update or security patch. Updates and patches are intended to maximize users' experience with Microsoft products, help users protect the privacy and security of their data, provide new features, and ensure a user's device is ready to process updates. Microsoft's terms state they use cookies to process information that helps them secure their products, as well as detect fraud and abuse. Moreover, the terms of Microsoft state when they transmit personal information over the internet, they protect it through the use of encryption, and protect the data users store with Microsoft through strong security and encryption.

Parents and educators should be aware the terms state that users can sign into certain Microsoft services with a school email address. The owner of the school domain associated with a user's email address may control and administer that user's account, and access and process their data, including the contents of their communications and files. In addition, the data associated with a school account, and how it will be used, is generally similar to the use and collection of data associated with a personal Microsoft account. If a school uses Azure Active Directory (AAD) to manage the account it provides users, they can use their school account to sign in to Microsoft products, such as Office 365, and third-party products provided to them by the school. Lastly, Microsoft's terms state they comply with data protection laws, including security breach notification laws.

Compliance

The terms state if a child tries to register for an account, Microsoft will ask them to provide consent or authorization from a parent or guardian before they can use the service. If Microsoft obtains a parent or guardian's consent to use their child's personal data, they can withdraw that consent at any time and parents can change or revoke the consent choices they previously made. The terms state that once parental consent or authorization is granted, the child's account is treated much like any other account. The terms also state Microsoft will not knowingly ask children to provide more data than is necessary to provide its services and Microsoft will either block child users from registering, including purchases, whether the minor’s account is now open or created later. The terms require users must be above a certain age to use Cortana. When a user tries to sign in, Cortana checks the age setting for that particular Microsoft account, and users that are identified as being too young cannot sign-in or have a personalized Cortana experience. Cortana on Windows can still help younger users search the web, or perform other tasks that don’t require the collection of any personal in.

In addition, the terms state that Microsoft will provide users the ability to access, review, modify, and delete their personal information at any time. Parents or guardians of children may request the deletion of the personal data of children for whom they provided consent or authorization and the terms state Microsoft will respond to requests to control personal data within 30 days. Many Microsoft products are intended for use by organizations, such as schools and businesses. The terms state parents and educators should direct their privacy inquiries, including any requests to exercise their data protection rights or those of children, to the school or organization’s administrator.

Data Collection
SCORE: 65%

What data does it collect?

  • Personally identifiable information (PII) is collected.
  • The categories of collected personally identifiable information are indicated.
  • Collection or use of data is limited to product requirements.
  • Geolocation data are collected.
  • Biometric or health data are collected.
  • Behavioral data are collected.
  • Sensitive data are collected.
  • Non-personally identifiable information is collected.
  • Combined information is treated as personally identifiable information (PII).
  • Personal information from children under 13 years of age is collected online.
Data Sharing
SCORE: 95%

What data does it share?

  • Collected information is shared with third parties.
  • The categories of information shared with third parties are indicated.
  • The purpose for sharing a user's personal information with third parties is indicated.
  • Use of information is limited to the purpose for which it was collected.
  • Data are shared for analytics.
  • Data are not shared for research and/or product improvement.
  • Data are shared with third-party service providers.
  • The roles of third-party service providers are indicated.
  • Social or federated login is supported.
  • Contractual limits are placed on third-party data use.
Data Security
SCORE: 95%

How does it secure data?

  • A user's identity is verified with additional personal information.
  • Account creation is required.
  • Parental controls or managed accounts are available.
  • Two-factor account protection is available.
  • Third-party contractual security protections are required.
  • Industry best practices are used to protect data.
  • Employee or physical access to user information is limited.
  • All data in transit are encrypted.
  • All data at rest are encrypted.
  • Notice is provided in the event of a data breach.
Data Rights
SCORE: 95%

What rights do I have to the data?

  • Opt-in consent is requested from users at the time personal information is collected.
  • Users can control their information through privacy settings.
  • Users can create or upload content.
  • Users retain ownership of their data.
  • Processes to access and review user data are available.
  • Processes to modify inaccurate data are available.
  • A data-retention policy is available.
  • Processes for the school, parents, or students to delete data are available.
  • Processes to delete user data are available.
  • Processes to download user data are available.
Data Sold
SCORE: 45%

Is the data sold?

  • Unclear whether data are sold or rented to third parties.
  • Users can opt out from the disclosure or sale of their data to a third party.
  • User information can be transferred to a third party.
  • Unclear whether users are notified if their information is transferred to a third party.
  • Unclear whether user information can be deleted prior to its transfer to a third party.
  • Unclear whether third-party transfers are contractually required to use the same privacy practices.
  • User information is shared in an anonymous or deidentified format.
  • Unclear whether the vendor describes their deidentification process of user information.
  • Data are not shared for research and/or product improvement.
  • Contractual limits prohibit third parties from reidentifying deidentified information.
Data Safety
SCORE: 45%

How safe is this product?

  • Users can interact with trusted users and/or students.
  • Users can interact with untrusted users, including strangers and/or adults.
  • Profile information is shared for social interactions.
  • Personal information is displayed publicly.
  • Users can control how their data are displayed.
  • User-created content is not reviewed, screened, or monitored by the vendor.
  • User-created content is not filtered for personal information before being made publicly visible.
  • Unclear whether social interactions between users are moderated.
  • Unclear whether social interactions of users are logged.
  • Unclear whether users can report abuse or cyberbullying.
Ads & Tracking
SCORE: 60%

Are there advertisements or tracking?

  • Data are shared for third-party advertising and/or marketing.
  • Traditional or contextual advertisements are displayed.
  • Behavioral or targeted advertising is displayed.
  • Data are collected by third-party advertising or tracking services.
  • Data are used to track and target advertisements on other third-party websites or services.
  • Data profiles are created and used for data enhancement, and/or targeted advertisements.
  • The vendor can send marketing messages.
  • The vendor does provide promotional sweepstakes, contests, or surveys.
  • Users can opt out of traditional, contextual, or behavioral advertising.
  • Users can opt out or unsubscribe from marketing communications.
Parental Consent
SCORE: 70%

Can I provide parental consent?

  • Intended for children under 13.
  • Unclear whether intended for parents or guardians.
  • Vendor does have actual knowledge that personal information from users under 13 years of age is collected.
  • Children's privacy is applicable.
  • Unclear whether this product indicates COPPA parental consent exceptions.
  • Parental consent is required.
  • Unclear whether this product limits parental consent with respect to third parties.
  • Parents can withdraw consent for the further collection of their child's information.
  • Children's personal information is deleted if collected without parental consent.
  • Parental consent notice and method for submission are provided.
School Purpose
SCORE: 20%

Is the product intended for school?

  • Unclear whether intended for students.
  • Unclear whether personal information or education records are collected from preK-12 students.
  • Unclear whether intended for teachers.
  • Product is not primarily used by, designed for, and marketed toward students in grades preK–12.
  • Unclear whether the product creates education records.
  • Notification of a contract or additional rights is provided.
  • Unclear whether this product designates the vendor as a school official.
  • Unclear whether this product transfers parental consent obligations to the school or district.
  • Unclear whether the vendor indicates FERPA parental consent exceptions.
  • Unclear whether this product discloses directory information.

Common Sense Standard Privacy Report (SPR)

The standard privacy report (SPR) displays all the privacy practices from a product's policies in a single, easy-to-read outline. The report shows a green check mark for better privacy practices and an orange alert for risky or unclear practices. This alert indicates that more time should be focused on these particular details prior to use.

About Privacy Evaluations

The privacy evaluations have been designed with the help and support of a consortium of schools and districts across the United States. These evaluations are designed to help educators make informed decisions about the potential privacy implications of educational technology used to support teaching and learning.

Our core evaluation criteria will always be freely available. People are encouraged to read the questions we use and our information security primer. Vendors are encouraged to use our questions and the information security primer to self-evaluate. You can also learn more about our evaluation process. Please be in touch with any questions or feedback.