Microsoft Quietly Kills Controversial Wi-Fi Sense Feature

Later this summer, when Microsoft rolls out a massive update to Windows 10 called Anniversary Edition, notably missing will be the controversial Wi-Fi Sense feature.

From its introduction, Microsoft’s Windows 10 feature Wi-Fi Sense has faced a massive amount of fear, uncertainty and doubt. Now those losing sleep over the feature can get some rest; Microsoft quietly announced last week it’s snuffing out the feature.

Later this summer, when Microsoft rolls out a massive update to Windows 10 called Anniversary Edition, notably missing will be the controversial Wi-Fi Sense feature.

Microsoft introduced Wi-Fi Sense with the debut of Windows Phone 8.1 in April of 2014, but it didn’t become widely noticed until the release of the Windows 10 OS in October of the same year. The feature is designed to make it easier to share your Wi-Fi password with trusted friends. That was the idea, at least.

There was near immediate condemnation of Microsoft for introducing the feature. Worried Windows 10 users wrongly feared the default Wi-Fi Sense feature allowed any of their closest Facebook, Outlook and Skype friends to have access to passwords associated with their personal and corporate networks.

Despite cries by Microsoft and other privacy experts who tried to comfort the paranoid that the sky was not falling, the Wi-Fi Sense feature has been widely panned by users and is now getting the axe, according to Microsoft.

In post to Microsoft’s TechNet website announcing a preview build (14342) of the Anniversary Edition of Windows 10, Gabe Aul, corporate vice president, of Microsoft’s Engineering Systems Team said the cost of updating the Wi-Fi Sense code to keep the feature working coupled with its low usage and low demand no longer justifies its existence.

“We have removed the Wi-Fi Sense feature that allows you to share Wi-Fi networks with your contacts and to be automatically connected to networks shared by your contacts,” Aul wrote.

However, Aul wrote, “Wi-Fi Sense, if enabled, will continue to get you connected to open Wi-Fi hotspots that it knows about through crowdsourcing.”

Going forward users will want double-check Wi-Fi Sense to make sure it’s turned off.

With Wi-Fi Sense, Windows 10 would automatically share Wi-Fi encrypted password information with your Outlook and Skype contacts by default. Users also had the option of sharing Wi-Fi passwords with Facebook friends, but had to take a separate step to do so.

The security concerns were two-fold. One, sharing your own Wi-Fi network with someone you are marginally connected to via Skype, Facebook or Outlook hardly seemed prudent. Equally as concerning is automatically being logged into a Wi-Fi network run by contact you may hardly know.

But lost in the outcry against Wi-Fi Sense were its safeguards. For example, with Wi-Fi Sense, your actual password was never shared. Rather, the password stays encrypted and stored in the cloud. When a contact comes within range of your Wi-Fi hotspot and is using Windows 10 on their device, they’d have access to an encrypted version of your Wi-Fi credentials and be able use only your Wi-Fi (no access to local resources permitted) without having to request to see the password. Microsoft argued this was more convenient and safer than writing the hotspot password down on a piece of paper that could easily lost or stolen.

Additionally, Wi-Fi Sense did not work with corporate networks that use additional authentication protocols such as 802.1x EAP and WPA2 Enterprise. Microsoft also stressed Wi-Fi Sense only shared your passwords with direct contacts, and not friends-of-friends, as many news outlets erroneously reported. Lastly, even though the feature was turned on by default, users were still prompted to click “share my network with my contacts” when logging into their own Wi-Fi network.

Microsoft won’t say when its Windows 10 Anniversary Edition will be available, but there are a number of reports that the OS update will arrive this June or July.

For those who will miss the feature, there are other similar Wi-Fi password sharing initiatives you can get behind. For starters, The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been promoting a similar concept called Open Wireless Movement. Comcast announced a “Neighborhood Hotspot initiative” where its combo residential wireless router and cable modem broadcast a Wi-Fi signal for private use and a second “neighborhood xfinitywifi” network signal that can be shared with other Xfinity customers. To a lesser extent, Apple added to its AirPort base stations a feature called Guest Network that limits guest access to a network’s Wi-Fi only without having to share a network password.

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