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Microsoft Opens Up About What Types of User Data Windows 10 Collects

Microsoft rolled out a new Windows 10 test build this week that gives users some more insights into, and control over, the kind of privacy-related information that Microsoft collects from their PCs.

Windows 10 build 17083 includes a new Windows Diagnostic Data Viewer application that's designed to show "the diagnostic data your device is sending to Microsoft." The application needs to be enabled from the Settings menu or installed from the Windows Store.

Microsoft's screenshots of the "telemetry" data displayed by the Windows Diagnostic Data Viewer app show what looks like the raw and somewhat obscure technical information sent by Windows 10 that Microsoft says it needs to address various software problems. Researchers at the Dutch Data Protection Authority, who earlier found that Windows 10 violated Dutch privacy regulations, had complained back in October that Windows 10 didn't provide users access to the actual telemetry data sent back to Microsoft. The researchers had to use a Microsoft internally built tool to gather that data.

The Windows Diagnostic Data Viewer application was highlighted in an announcement Wednesday by Marisa Rogers, Microsoft's privacy officer for the Windows and Devices Group, as part of Microsoft's commitment "to be fully transparent on the diagnostic data collected from your Windows devices, how it is used, and to provide you with increased control over that data." She pointed to this document for definitions about the telemetry data that get collected. The document describes the "Full" telemetry data collection option in Windows 10.

Microsoft's telemetry information collection is categorized at four levels. The levels can be set by organizations or, in most cases, by end users. The categories include Full, Basic, Enhanced (which was retracted with the Windows 10 "Creators Update" release) and Security. The Security telemetry option is seldom mentioned by Microsoft, but it's only available with Enterprise and Education editions of Windows 10 and isn't recommended for organizations that use the Windows Update service, accord to this Microsoft document description.

While IT pros have control initially over the telemetry settings when they provision Windows 10 PCs, Microsoft is signaling that it will be adding greater control on the end users' side with Windows 10 build 17083. Apparently, end users, or "standard users," will have control over the "Diagnostic Data levels" that get set. Here's how Microsoft described it:

With our commitment to transparency and control, a standard user can now make changes to the Diagnostic Data levels. When an administrator sets the Diagnostic Data level, a user can choose to update the Diagnostic Data setting. This control also provides notifications when these settings have been changed by another user or an administrator.

That description seems to suggest that end users will be able to override telemetry settings made by administrators in a coming Windows 10 release.

Privacy Dashboard
Microsoft described another privacy enhancement on top of the new Windows Diagnostic Data Viewer application in Windows 10 build 17083. Namely, it updated its Privacy Dashboard portal.

The Microsoft Privacy Dashboard is a Web site for consumer Windows 10 users where they can clear browsing and search histories, as well as location and Cortana information. The dashboard now has "a new Activity History page," Rogers noted. She didn't describe it, but here's how Activity History is described within the Privacy Dashboard portal:

The info that appears on this page represents the most relevant personal data that we save with your Microsoft account to help make your experience with our products and services more personalized, useful, and fun. You can change what data is collected by adjusting the privacy settings on your device or browser at any time.

The Activity History page right now seems to consist of saved search information from Bing searches, although Microsoft seems to have plans to expand its scope. It's not really clear which privacy settings will turn it off or adjust it for Bing searches.

Other Changes
Microsoft has additional plans to enhance some user controls in Windows 10. In "the coming months," users will be able to do the following tasks, according to Rogers:

  • View and manage media consumption data, as well as product and service activity on the Activity History page
  • Export for any of the data you see on the dashboard
  • Delete specific items to allow for greater individual control

Under Full telemetry reporting, Microsoft collects information about a user's movies, music and TV media consumption. However, Microsoft's documentation states that such data collection "isn't intended to capture user viewing, listening or habits."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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