If you get a notification that you have a “Microsoft account problem,” you don’t have a problem and you don’t have to fix anything. You haven’t been hacked and you don’t have a virus. Microsoft is testing your patience.
How to stop the notifications
Click on Start / Settings (the gear in the left column).
Click on System.
Click on Shared Experiences in the left column.
Turn off Nearby Sharing and Share across devices.
That should turn off the notifications. (Sometimes they keep popping up even after those switches have been turned off. I can’t explain that.)
Trust me – you won’t miss “shared experiences.”
The message reads: “Microsoft account problem – We need to fix your Microsoft account (most likely your password changed). Select here to fix it in Shared experiences settings.”
If you see that message and you know you haven’t changed any passwords lately, you will worry that your Microsoft account has been hacked. Four people called me on the same day last week about the scary message. They had been putting in every password they could think of, trying to resolve their “account problem.” Nothing worked.
Out of curiosity, I have tried to fix the “problem” for several different clients. I tested the credentials for their personal and work accounts to make sure we had up to date passwords, then fed every variation into the prompt at Shared Experiences, trying to satisfy it. Nothing worked.
I’m pretty confident, then, that these two things are true for most people:
- There is nothing that needs to be “fixed.” There appears to be a bug in the way Microsoft has set up “Shared experiences” that brings up an incorrect error message.
- More importantly: “Shared experiences” is an obscure, nearly useless Windows feature that should never call attention to itself. You aren’t using it, you won’t use it, and it should be polite and shut up.
This is not a new problem. When the new “Shared Experiences” setting first appeared in Windows 10 two years ago, there were two variations on similarly scary messages.
Message 1: “Microsoft Account – You need to fix your Microsoft Account for apps on your other devices to be able to launch apps and continue experiences on this device.”
Message 2: “Work or school account problem – We need to fix your work or school account before you can use shared experiences. Select this message to open Settings and fix things.”
I wrote this article two years ago about those messages, which were just as wrong then as the scary message you see today.
What are Windows 10 “Shared experiences”?
Let’s zoom up to 36,000 feet and get the big picture.
Microsoft was badly burned when it missed the transition to mobile devices. It wasn’t for lack of trying! Before 2007 Microsoft had made valiant efforts to develop handheld Windows devices. It was so unsuccessful that when Apple introduced the iPhone, the world forgot about Microsoft’s mobile efforts. Today, most people think Apple invented mobile computing.
After fumbling and flailing for a few more years, Microsoft launched a new push to break into the iPhone/Android phone duopoly, redoubling its efforts to develop a phone operating system and spending billions to acquire Nokia and sell its own phones. The result: embarrassing failure, layoffs, and huge write-downs.
Microsoft still has its dominant place in computer operating systems and has brilliantly pivoted to enterprise services. It is embracing open standards and has been avoiding the spotlight now being shone on other tech companies for privacy and antitrust issues. As a result, Microsoft is arguably the most successful tech company on the planet right now.
But Microsoft can’t let go of its disappointment about being excluded from the mobile world. The future belongs to the connections among our devices, mostly mobile devices. Since Microsoft doesn’t have its own mobile platform, the company risks becoming irrelevant to consumers unless they can be convinced to use Microsoft services to link their devices together.
Thus the insistent push to store files in OneDrive, which with luck will lead you to use OneDrive and the Office apps on your phone. (OneDrive is doing pretty well.) Microsoft is retooling its Edge browser and will be touting its ability to sync your bookmarks and preferences to the Edge mobile app so that you can go back and forth between your computer and your phone. (Edge has a user base of forty-three. That’s not a percentage, it’s the number of people worldwide using Edge. I don’t see anything coming up that will change that.) Microsoft is putting finishing touches on a new Windows app, Your Phone, which will sync your Android phone to your computer and be Fabulously Useful ™. (The Your Phone app will go nowhere – some loyal users, roundly ignored by everyone else.)
Shared Experiences is yet another halfhearted effort to create links between our devices. As I wrote two years ago:
In theory you can push your open web pages from your desktop computer to your laptop, or transfer your work in a program on your computer to the same program on your phone or tablet. “Shared experiences” can be synced through the cloud as well as Bluetooth. In addition to syncing your place in an app, it has the potential to turn a mobile device into a remote control for, say, media playback on the computer. There is also the chance to “invite others to use apps with me,” whatever that means.
The Shared Experiences feature was completely useless when it was introduced two years ago. Nothing supported it. At best, it was only going to be relevant if we used Microsoft apps on our phone that matched the Microsoft programs on our computers – and we don’t. In any case, for the most part, Microsoft apps were not ready to support Shared Experiences, and third party developers showed no interest in supporting it.
Today, two years later, I cannot find any evidence whatsoever that anything has changed. If Microsoft is supporting this feature with its own apps, it is not advertising that in anything I can turn up in a Google search. I find zero evidence of any developer interest. It looks like a feature begging to be abandoned.
Which makes the error message all the more infuriating. Microsoft has had two years either to make this work smoothly or to get its feature to shut up.
This story ends in precisely the same place it did two years ago:
Microsoft showed you an unexplained error message instructing you to fix your Microsoft account, which wasn’t broken, for a feature that does nothing now and might never do anything interesting ever.