Microsoft pledges to do better for Windows 10 privacy

April 6, 2017 | 11:09

Tags: #creators-update #operating-system #privacy #telemetry #terry-myerson #windows-10

Companies: #microsoft

Microsoft has pledged to become more transparent about the data collected by Windows 10's built-in telemetry systems and give users more control over their operation, even as the company's own software updates frequently 'accidentally' reset privacy preferences to their defaults.

In a joint blog post published last night, Microsoft's executive vice president for Windows and devices Terry Myerson and privacy officer Marisa Rogers announced three changes due to land as part of the Windows 10 Creators Update on April 11th: improved in-product privacy information, an updated privacy statement, and the publishing of additional details regarding what data are collected by Windows 10 and why - the latter finally shining the light of transparency on what has been a very opaque data-gathering exercise by the company.

A full list of the data gathered by Windows 10 Build 1703 - and, presumably, future builds - while set to the lowest-possible 'Basic' telemetry mode has accordingly been published to the Windows IT Centre. In it, each field of telemetry databases, captures, and registry settings is briefly identified with a short single-sentence description of its purpose. While certainly transparent, the document is far from user-friendly: At more than 31,000 words long, it's not something easily skimmed, nor are its explanations accessible to those without a reasonably in-depth knowledge of Windows internals. It is, however, at least now available - and the company's summary of diagnostic data, which covers both Basic and Full telemetry levels, gives a less-thorough but more accessible overview.

'Aside from sharing new information to inform your choices, our teams have also worked diligently since the Anniversary Update to re-assess what data is strictly necessary at the Basic level to keep Windows 10 devices up to date and secure,' added Myerson in the blog post. 'We looked closely at how we use this diagnostic data and strengthened our commitment to minimise data collection at the Basic level. As a result, we have reduced the number of events collected and reduced, by about half, the volume of data we collect at the Basic level.'

The Creators Update, Microsoft has confirmed, will prompt all users to confirm their chosen privacy settings: The diagnostic telemetry can be toggled between Basic and Full - though for all but corporate domain-linked users, never switched off - while the sharing of location, speech recognition, 'tailored experiences' which use the diagnostic data, and advertising ID data can all be toggled off from the new screen - and will, hopefully, remain off between updates from now on. Each privacy setting will include a 'Learn More' button, providing at-a-glance details of what is affected by toggling the setting on and off.

The Windows 10 Creators Update is available to Windows Insider beta-test users now, and will launch generally on April 11th.
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