Windows 10 data collection — privacy matters

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Apr 062017
 

Checking and tuning your Windows 10 settings is highly recommended. I typically do this when helping clients upgrade to Windows 10 or set up a new PC. Windows 10 moved many settings from control panels to the Settings app. There’re lots of privacy settings, as I’ve mentioned previously.

I follow news about how companies collect data from PCs and other devices. This includes Internet Service Providers as well. And the growing list of intelligent personal (digital) assistants (Cortana, Siri, Alexa, Google Home) — so-called intelligent assistance has a price, eh.1  Typical Privacy Policies offer few options for controlling what data is collected and how that is shared. Few opportunities to opt-out. You need to agree or you can’t use the product or service. But sometimes you can limit how data is shared; so, reviewing those options usually is recommended.2

As a result, PC World’s recent article “Microsoft finally reveals what data Windows 10 collects from your PC” is noteworthy.

There are all kinds of new features in the Windows 10 Creators Update rolling out on April 11, but one change really sticks out. Greater transparency about the data that Microsoft collects from your PC.

All too often manufacturers and service providers intone that collecting diagnostic (or quality-of-service) data helps improve their products and services. Some of this appears reasonable. Some remains mysterious. And occasionally there are stories about excessive or inappropriate data collection (e.g., regarding some children’s Internet-connected toys). Or how such data may be stored essentially forever. And security of that data.

Microsoft published two Technet pages describing the data Microsoft collects from users on the Creators Update. There are two levels of diagnostic data: basic3 and full4. The information is quite detailed and we won’t get into it here, but if you’re interested, you can find all the nitty-gritty details in those links. Note that while the Basic listing reveals all, the Full listing is a summary of the kinds of data that setting collects.

Even the basic level can gather quite a bit of info from your PC, though in a blog post, Windows chief Terry Myerson pledges that “we only collect data at the Basic level that is necessary to keep your Windows 10 device secure and up to date.” Microsoft still offers no native way to turn off Windows 10’s diagnostic collection completely.

At least in the latest Windows 10 Update Microsoft consolidated privacy settings better.

Instead of a string of screens when you first install the new version of Windows 10, Microsoft is putting all the key privacy settings on one screen. The dashboard you’ll see depends on whether you’re already running Windows 10 on your machine or setting up a new PC for the first time.

 

Notes

  1. I am more concerned about data collection by major corporations and the many app/service providers than by the government.
  2. As well as being aware of how you voluntarily provide data when using any Internet-connected device, or even your landline or cell phone. The recent repeal of the FCC’s Internet privacy rule is concerning: “The Obama-backed rules — which would have taken effect later this year — would have banned Internet providers from collecting, storing, sharing and selling certain types of customer information without those customers’ consent. Data such as a person’s Web browsing history, app usage history and location details would have required a customer’s explicit permission before companies such as Verizon and Comcast could mine the information for advertising purposes.”
  3. “The Basic level gathers a limited set of information that is critical for understanding the device and its configuration including: basic device information, quality-related information, app compatibility, and Windows Store. When the level is set to Basic, it also includes the Security level information.” [Detailed list follows on that page.]
  4. Full telemetry level (inclusive of data collected at Basic):
    • Common Data (diagnostic header information)
    • Device, Connectivity, and Configuration data
    • Product and Service Usage data
    • Product and Service Performance data
    • Software Setup and Inventory data
    • Content Consumption data
    • Browsing, Search and Query data
    • Inking, Typing, and Speech Utterance data
    • Licensing and Purchase data

Windows 10 Anniversary Update — takes awhile

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Aug 112016
 

Well, Microsoft’s free Windows 10 Upgrade offer for Windows 7 and Windows 8 expired at the end of July. If you recently upgraded before that deadline, be prepared for another major Update, the Windows 10 Anniversary Update. Yes, it’s been over a year now since Windows 10 was released. Be prepared to set aside around 2 hours for the Update, whether you get the Update automatically like other Windows updates or decide to manually install the Update.

I waited a few days after the Windows 10 Anniversary Update became available, and then checked on several PCs to see whether the Update automatically appeared. Nope. Well, the rollout to millions of users will occur over a period of weeks. Then I read about how to manually download and install the Update.

I installed the Update on two PCs so far. I experienced no problems doing the Update or afterwards, although there have been some reports of issues after the massive Update. In each case, the Update took around 2 hours to download and install and complete setup. There was no circular progress diagram like for the Windows 10 Upgrade — just the typical update stages with percent complete indication and restarts. Don’t panic during the occasional black screen transitions in the process.

Many other articles cover the new features of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update. Here’re some things that I noticed. In the setup after the last restart, I chose to Customize settings and tuned them to values before the Update, especially Privacy-related settings.

The Start menu changed, mostly for the better. In the System Tray, the Notifications icon moved to the right corner and the date / time icon shifted left. The Notifications icon now shows a number count.

If not already removed, the Windows Store apps Food & Drink, Health & Fitness, and Travel were removed. These MSN apps were discontinued last year.

After the Update, Update History was blank. But this changed quickly, as “Patch Tuesday” (on August 9) installed several updates for the new “1607” Windows 10 version — similar to the updates for the “1511” version for those without the Windows 10 Anniversary Update.

The Update also fixed some bugs. After getting the alert that Windows installed some updates, clicking on that alert opened the Update window. Previously this action usually did nothing. So, Notifications (Action Center) may be working better.

Cortana cannot be disabled, but on PCs without a camera or microphone, its presence is really not an issue. The Search box works essentially the same as before.

Microsoft’s Edge browser now supports Extensions. I installed a few, while the list of available Extensions is quite limited as yet. You might want to try AdBlock or AdBlock Plus. There was a really odd quirk when checking for Extensions in the Edge browser. The Windows Store Edge Extensions window was blank until manually resized slightly.

Microsoft continues to aggressively push its Windows Store, which started after Windows 7. An ecosystem thing.

Remember that while you can still use Windows 10 with a local account — versus Microsoft account, Microsoft really wants you in their ecosystem. Devices and services. Using a Microsoft account allows easy access to all their services (and services is their focus). For example, by using a Microsoft account, you’re automatically logged into the OneDrive cloud — no need to separately log into that service; and saving documents to their “cloud” works as just another storage location.

For more information, PC World summarized the “best new features.”