Windows 8.1's 'Hero' ads -- brought to you by stealthy snooping

Microsoft unleashed a new iteration of its Hero ads but somehow forgot to mention that they work by secretly snooping on your desktop

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According to the Seattle Times, Hero ads are being served up for "44 percent of Windows 8.1 users in the U.S. who type in certain specific brand names, including Radio Shack, Home Depot, Land Rover, and few other companies that are partnering with Microsoft on this project." You can see a Hero ad in Windows 8.1 by searching for Michael Jackson or Marilyn Monroe and, at least in some cases, Steve Ballmer.

Here's the part Microsoft doesn't tell you -- the part the tech press neglects to mention: Bing Smart Search works by snooping on the searches you perform on your Windows 8.1 computer (there's no Smart Search in Windows 8). Windows watches as you run local searches. Unless you specifically, explicitly search for Settings or Files, Smart Search bundles up all of your search terms and sends them to Bing, along with whatever tracking information Windows has at hand. (Perhaps your Windows account?)

So if you're searching your own computer or your local network for Rush Limbaugh, or tax dodges, or Ford Taurus, Bing knows all, sees all -- and it won't forget the next time it's dishing up ads or handing over your data for whatever reason. That's the price you as a Windows 8.1 user pay for Microsoft's Smart Search. Microsoft kindly turns Bing Smart Search on by default for all Windows 8.1 customers.

Fortunately, it's easy to turn off Windows 8.1's Smart Search -- if you know where to find the setting. From the Settings charm, at the bottom choose Change PC Settings, then on the left select Search and Apps. Then choose Search, and move the "Get search suggestions and Web results from Bing" slider to Off.

I know, I know. You'll be losing all of those wonderful giant Hero ads. Pity that a modicum of privacy comes at such a steep price.

This story, "Windows 8.1's 'Hero' ads -- brought to you by stealthy snooping," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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