Watch out Windows 11 users: Microsoft may be sharing your Outlook emails without you knowing – here’s how to stop it

It looks like Microsoft’s penchant for collecting its users’ data may get it in more trouble, with a worrying new report suggesting that it's sharing more information from emails sent by the new Outlook for Windows app than people may know.

This is particularly concerning as most people check their emails daily, to keep up with friends and family, or send important documents and information at work, and with the Outlook for Windows app now being the default program for emails in Windows 11, this discovery could impact a lot of people

MSPoweruser reports that the team behind ProtonMail, an end-to-end encrypted email service and competitor to Microsoft Outlook, has discovered the worrying scale of user data being collected by Outlook for Windows, which reportedly includes your emails, contacts, browsing history, and possibly even location data. 

ProtonMail’s blog post goes so far as to call Outlook for Windows  “a surveillance tool for targeted advertising”, a harsh comment, certainly, but people who downloaded the new Outlook for Windows app have encountered a disclaimer that explains how Microsoft and hundreds of third parties will be helping themselves to your data. 

It seems like the majority of the data is being used primarily for advertising purposes, with users having to opt out of sharing their data for each of the 772 companies manually. This means that by default you may be sharing a heck of a lot of information, and if you wish to opt out, the process is time-consuming and annoying. 

Here we go again … 

Microsoft has a rather dubious past of being quite greedy with user data. This time last year you might remember our report detailing serious privacy concerns users had with Windows 11, with the PC Security Channel uploading a YouTube video that demonstrated that before you even connect to the internet or open an app, Windows 11 was collecting and sending data to Microsoft – and possibly third-party servers.  

That being said, we should remember that ProtonMail is a direct competitor of Microsoft’s email apps and services, and the team behind it would be very keen to direct criticism at Outlook for Windows. ProtonMail is a service dedicated to user privacy and keeping users' email (as well as calendar, file storage, and VPN) encrypted, so we do have to keep in mind the team’s motives for highlighting this, as the company would want to make its privacy and security look much better than Outlook. 

We also have to consider the fact that Outlook for Windows is a free app, so you could argue that Microsoft can support the app and continue adding features by providing user data to paying third parties.  Regardless, while you can technically opt out of the data sharing, it’s still cheeky of Microsoft to have the opt-out option be a per-advertiser toggle click rather than a simple ‘reject all’ button. But, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. 

Opt out as fast as you can!

If all of this has you concerned and itching to opt out entirely, we’ve got you covered. Head over to the General section of your Outlook for Windows settings and you should see an option called ‘Advertising Preferences’. When you click that you’ll see a large list of company names and toggles near their name set to ‘enable’. 

Unless you create a brand new Outlook email, from what we can tell there’s no single button that will deselect all of them, so you may have to set some time aside to sit down and deselect them all. Each advertiser has an option for you to read more about their privacy policies, and once you open that you’ll see another option to opt out. 

Microsoft Outlook

(Image credit: Future)

I created a new Outlook email account just to test it out, and the option to reject all did pop up when Outlook for Windows first opened, and I also have the option to deselect all the advertising preferences at once in the Settings page as well, though that might not appear for people who have already set up the app with an existing Outlook account. 

If sharing our data by default is the price we have to pay for free apps like Outlook for Windows, at least Microsoft seems to have made turning off that sharing easier than ProtonMail’s team have made out. Still, this shows that it’s well worth paying attention to user agreements and disclaimers for free apps, especially from Microsoft, so you know exactly how much of your data you’re sharing – and who has access to it.

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Check your emails Oculus Quest 2 owners, Meta might be giving you a free upgrade

If you own an Oculus Quest 2 VR headset then go and check your emails, as Meta might be trying to give you a free Elite Strap accessory for it.

User u/claimingmarrow7 took to Reddit to show off an email they claim to have received from Meta. In it they’re told they’ve been sent a unique code they can redeem to be sent a Quest 2 Elite Strap with “no string attached” – all they have to do is take advantage of the promotion before it expires on August 4, 2023.

It’s not currently clear if this is an offer exclusive to select users like claimingmarrow7, or if all Quest 2 owners will be sent similar emails in the near future. We’ve reached out to Meta for clarification, but while we wait for a response we’d recommend looking in the inbox for your Quest account’s registered email (and the spam folder too) to see if you’ve also got a code for a free VR accessory.

The Meta Quest 2 headset next to a plastic Elite Strap

(Image credit: Meta)

What is the Elite Strap?

The Elite Strap is an optional Quest 2 upgrade that replaces the original elastic strap with a plastic one that tightens using a fit wheel. This mechanism gives the headset a much more secure fit on your head and is generally more comfortable than the regular strap.

It doesn’t come cheap, however, with the strap usually costing $ 59.99 / £59.99 / AU$ 89.99 – so getting one for free is a solid deal. 

Just note that this offer appears to be for the regular Elite Strap rather than the version with a battery. The upgraded (but more expensive) Elite Strap with battery model not only provides an extra hour or two of battery life – effectively doubling your Quest 2’s usage time – but further improves the Quest 2’s comfort as the battery serves a counterweight to the usually front-heavy design of the headset.

If you aren’t lucky enough to get a code for a free Elite Strap from Meta and are looking to buy your own, the Elite Strap with battery option is the one we’d recommend – it’s definitely worth the higher cost for people who use their headset a lot.

Looking for a bigger upgrade to your Quest 2? Check out our picks for the best VR headset to see what other options are out there for you to try out.

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Hate writing emails? Gmail will soon do it for you on iOS and Android

Tired of writing emails from your phone? Google’s AI-powered Help Me Write tool for Gmail is coming to Android and iOS to help you draft replies in no time.

Since Google I/O 2023, Google has been releasing a bunch of in-development AI tools such as its updated Google Bard chatbot and Help Me Write, its new writing assistant. Help Me Write was previously only available to enrolled Workspace testers on desktop, but now those users will be able to use it in the Gmail app on their smartphone. This hopefully points towards a wider rollout soon.

Help Me Write works in two main ways. It can edit an email you’ve already written – for example, it can shorten it if it’s too wordy, make it more sound more formal, or insert emojis to create a more casual vibe with the ‘I’m feeling lucky’ option. 

Alternatively, if you’re in a rush you can provide the tool with a quick prompt and it’ll draft the whole thing for you. You can then edit it yourself, or use the same refinements (see image below) as before to tweak the length and tone.

In testing we’ve found the AI is generally better as an editor than a writer, but if you’ve got to draft a bunch of replies to tedious emails, then letting the AI take over the bulk of the work can be a major time-saver.

To get started with Help Me Write on Android or iOS you’ll need to download the Gmail app and sign into the account that has access to the Workspace prototype. Then, when you next compose an email you should see a Help Me Write prompt appear in the bottom right corner of your screen.

The update is steadily rolling out, so even if you’re signed up for Workspace Labs you might not yet see the Help Me Write option in Gmail on mobile yet.

How to get Help Me Write

A phone on an orange background showing the Gmail Help Me Write feature in an email

(Image credit: Future)

To get access to Help Me Write and some other AI tools it’s working on you’ll need to sign up for the invite-only Google Workspace Labs and get approval.

To request this, make sure you’re logged into your Google account on your browser of choice and go to the official Workspace Labs sign-up page. After reading through some details you’ll find some consumer acknowledgments that you’ll need to check off before you can hit ‘Submit’. Do this and you’ll be signed up to Workspace Labs.

As the tools are only in beta don’t expect them to be perfect – we’d recommend reading any AI-written emails before sending them off in case you find any huge errors. You’ll also find that the AI currently uses US English – so if you’re living in a region that uses 'colour' instead of 'color' or calls aubergines 'eggplants', you might find you have to correct the AI a fair bit.

If you want to try out some other powerful AI tools, check out our guide to the best ChatGPT alternatives.

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Gmail is adding more AI to help you find important emails faster

AI seems to be everywhere at the moment, and Google is building the tech into its products faster than most. Gmail is the latest Google app to get an injection of artificial intelligence, to improve search results on mobile.

“When searching in Gmail, machine learning models will use the search term, most recent emails and other relevant factors to show you the results that best match your search query,” Google explains in a blog post (via Android Central).

“These results will now appear at the top of the list in a dedicated section, followed by all results sorted by recency,” the post continues. In other words, AI will (in theory) pick out the best matches for your search, and put them at the top of the list.

Years of AI

This is coming to the Gmail apps for Android and iOS, and should be rolling out for everyone now. As yet, there's no word on whether or not the same feature will be making an appearance in the desktop web interface for Gmail.

AI has been built into Gmail for years of course, with features like Smart Reply composing short automated replies for you. In recent months, Google has been pushing more advanced, generative AI as a way of composing your emails.

More AI features are heading to search on the web too, while development on the ChatGPT rival Google Bard continues at a steady pace. We can expect plenty more announcements like this one in the months and years ahead.

Analysis: AI needs to be useful

Google and other tech companies seem to have no qualms about pushing out AI features as quickly as they possibly can at the moment, which is what tends to happen in a competitive, emerging field when several players are trying to get out in front.

However, we'd query just how useful all of this AI is going to end up being. Sure, having the option to generate text messages in the style of Shakespeare is quite fun – but wouldn't most people prefer to use their own words from their own heads when keeping up conversations with friends and family?

Even something like Gmail search isn't a complete win for AI. What are the “relevant factors” that the app is using to pick the top results? Are they reliable? Sometimes it feels like the old manual methods of labels and stars are the best ways to keep on top of thousands of emails taking up room in Gmail.

In an age where we're relying on algorithms for everything from choosing our movie recommendations to writing our books, there's still a lot to be said for human creativity and curation, which might be slower but can be a whole lot more useful and engaging.

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Microsoft Outlook gets emails that update themselves after you send them

After being announced at Microsoft Ignite last year, Loop components are now rolling out in Microsoft Outlook.

For those unfamiliar, Microsoft Loop is a new app that combines a powerful and flexible canvas with portable components that move freely and stay in sync across the software giant's apps. It is made up of three elements in the form of Loop components, Loop pages and Loop workspaces.

While Loop pages are flexible canvases where users can organize all of their Loop components in one place and Loop workspaces are shared spaces that allow teams to see and group everything important to a project, Loop components are an evolution of Fluid components that help users collaborate and get things done in chats, emails, meetings and documents.

Now Microsoft Outlook users will be able to leverage the power of Loop components when using the company’s email service.

Loop components in Outlook

According to a new post in the Microsoft 365 roadmap, Loop components are now rolling out in Microsoft Outlook and these live, interactive objects can be embedded in email messages to provide real-time collaboration.

In a support document, Microsoft highlights several of its Loop components that users can add to emails in Outlook or even messages in Microsoft Teams. These include bulleted lists, checklists, numbered lists, paragraphs, tables, task lists and more.

One of the nice things about Loop components is that they are automatically saved to OneDrive so that you’ll be able to easily find and use them again later.

With the addition of Loop components in Outlook, emails will become much more fluid as they’ll even be able to update themselves after being sent. Say you add a list of follow-up tasks to an email, collaborators can check off items as they complete them and all of the changes made to the Loop component will be reflected in the original email. This way users don’t have to waste time sending emails back and forth to one another once a task has been completed.

We’ll likely hear more from Microsoft regarding Loop components once Microsoft 365 users get a chance to test them out for themselves.

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Microsoft Outlook will alert you if your emails aren’t up to standard

Microsoft is preparing to roll out a new feature for email service Outlook that will give users a chance to assess the suitability of their messages before sending.

As explained in a new entry to the company’s product roadmap, Outlook users will soon gain access to an upgraded version of the MailTips help service. Available from July onwards, the new-look tool will notify people if their emails do not live up to accessibility standards.

“Users will see a MailTip in Outlook recommending to fix accessibility issues before sending email messages to large [groups], external users, or for any messages marked as ‘high importance’. The MailTip will show up at the top of the email compose window,” explained Microsoft.

Outlook accessibility

With a larger proportion of collaboration taking place over email and cloud-based office software since the start of the pandemic, the need for workers to ensure their communications meet accessibility standards has only become more acute.

However, it’s not always easy to remember to perform accessibility checks in the heat of a busy working day. And in some instances, it may be unclear precisely what can be done to make an email more accessible. The upcoming update for MailTips in Outlook should help address both of these problems.

“By creating and sending accessible emails, you ensure that recipients can access, read and use the information they contain,” said Microsoft, in a separate explainer.

“We are expanding the functionality [of MailTips] to automatically prompt you when an accessibility violation is detected while composing an email to large audiences or external users, for example, and help you fix the issue.”

There are a number of ways to configure the new feature, which can be switched on permanently, activated only in certain scenarios (e.g. when a recipient has registered specific accessibility needs), or turned off until a manual accessibility check is performed.

The Outlook announcement follows on from a separate update for Microsoft Office, which serves a related purpose. As detailed in a blog post from January, Microsoft 365 customers can now use a new Accessibility Reminder add-on for Word, Excel and PowerPoint to notify colleagues of any additional needs they may have.

The idea was to create a non-confrontational way for someone to remind co-workers of their accessibility needs that didn’t involve sending out a dedicated email or instant message.

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