Elon Musk might have ruined Twitter, but he’s not wrong about Windows 11 and growing AI threats to privacy

Elon Musk
Twitters anställda ser ut att få extra långa dagar på kontoret efter ultimatumet från Elon Musk. (Image credit: Getty Images / Carina Johansen)

As you might have already seen, Elon Musk fired shots at Microsoft on X (the bloated digital corpse once known as Twitter) over the latter’s mandatory account requirements for setting up a new Windows 11 laptop.

In a post on Sunday, Musk complained “Just bought a new PC laptop and it won’t let me use it unless I create a Microsoft account, which also means giving their AI access to my computer! This is messed up.”

Now, I hate to be seen agreeing with the internet’s most stable billionaire, but he’s not entirely wrong – it’s an unending source of frustration in the modern day that almost everything seems to require an account, from your laptop to your home security system.

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Of course, Musk is a bit wrong. You actually can set up a new Windows laptop without logging into a Microsoft account, as the Community Notes feature on X helpfully added – and when the CEO fired back at his own website’s community-driven fact-checking feature, a further note confirmed that while it’s not as simple as it was on Windows 10, there is a complicated workaround for account-less Windows 11 setups.

Logging in, checking out

But why must it be so complicated? Most of the best laptops on the market right now run on Windows 11, and Musk is correct about the fact that creating a Microsoft account does involve sharing a certain amount of your personal data with the tech giant. The option to set up a laptop without an account used to be commonplace, but it’s rapidly eroding.

As I said before, it’s not a problem unique to Windows computers. In fact, Musk might want to avoid throwing any stones in that greenhouse, since Neowin pointed out that you need a Tesla account to drive one of Musk’s electric vehicles, and I've personally been annoyed by how poorly X now functions in a browser without logging in. It’s getting harder and harder in this day and age to find technology that you can simply switch on and use.

Tesla Cybertruck

Want to run over some chooms in your Cybertruck? You'll need a Tesla account for that (Image credit: Getty Images)

The reasoning behind it is obvious with only a little examination: in our increasingly digital lives, data is king, and forcing users to make an account to use their product or service is just another seemingly innocuous way to gather that data.

To be clear, I’m not saying that Microsoft (and every other company that forces its customers to make accounts) is planning to do anything nefarious with your personal data – it’s mostly for targeted advertising purposes, which can be irritating but isn’t inherently dastardly. But at the same time, I do think that anyone should be able to buy a laptop and use it immediately without having to create a log of one’s personal information on Microsoft’s servers.

Accounts as far as the eye can see

Apart from anything, I have dozens if not hundreds of accounts for various platforms and tools. Sure, it makes sense for some stuff to have an account; I appreciate that I need to log into a secure environment to access my emails, but do I really need an account to book a hotel room or view an Instagram post my boyfriend sends me? I never used to.

This widespread propagation of account requirements has been synonymous with the slow death of web apps. I used to be able to click a link and simply view its contents on my browser; now, it either force-opens an app or gives me a diet version of the original web app that prompts me to download something with every single click I try to make. Surely I can’t be the only one annoyed by this?

MS Paint

Microsoft Paint is getting so many AI injections it's starting to look like the digital equivalent of a botox addict (Image credit: Microsoft via Unsplash)

In yet another turn-up for the books, Musk is also right about the proliferation of AI features within Windows 11. Microsoft’s Copilot assistant is steadily seeding itself throughout the OS, with AI tools popping up in everything from the Photos app to Microsoft Paint. How much of our data is being harvested to feed these AI models? Microsoft’s TOS do state that no personally identifying information will be sacrificed at the altar of machine learning, but that the rather vaguely-defined ‘telemetry data’ can (and will) be used.

I use a Windows laptop – the excellent HP Spectre x360 – for both work and personal projects, including creative writing (mostly short stories and a handful of novels I’ll likely never finish), and I don’t particularly like the idea of an AI leering at my work over my metaphorical shoulder. So, and as much as it pains me to say it, Musk actually has a pretty good point. 

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Christian Guyton
Editor, Computing

Christian is TechRadar’s UK-based Computing Editor. He came to us from Maximum PC magazine, where he fell in love with computer hardware and building PCs. He was a regular fixture amongst our freelance review team before making the jump to TechRadar, and can usually be found drooling over the latest high-end graphics card or gaming laptop before looking at his bank account balance and crying.

Christian is a keen campaigner for LGBTQ+ rights and the owner of a charming rescue dog named Lucy, having adopted her after he beat cancer in 2021. She keeps him fit and healthy through a combination of face-licking and long walks, and only occasionally barks at him to demand treats when he’s trying to work from home.