(Updated Oct. 9, 2018) – While the overall reception to Windows 10 has been mostly positive, more than a few IT administrators remain wary of potential privacy and security issues. The telemetry service in Windows 10 particularly irks security-minded IT pros. Why? The default-enabled Windows 10 telemetry feature set periodically sends usage and performance data to select Microsoft IP addresses.
Microsoft says telemetry helps improve user experience and fix potential issues. Obviously this raises privacy concerns for many users. Is it OK to disable Windows 10 telemetry? Yes. We’ll cover managing your privacy in Windows 10, and share tools that clamp down on what data you send to Microsoft.
What is telemetry data?
Windows 10 telemetry data includes basic system diagnostics information, logs of how frequently you use features and applications, system files, and likely more metrics that have yet to be disclosed. Fortunately, Microsoft allows users to set the amount of data they wish to share, but it cannot be completely turned off. Enterprise installations have an even more minimal setting but even then a small amount of security and diagnostic information is sent.
Microsoft splits telemetry settings into four tiers.
- Security – Data and logs pertaining to Windows security, including client settings and metrics collected from the Malicious Software Removal Tool and Windows Defender. Available only on Enterprise installations.
- Basic – Device information including application compatibility and security.
- Enhanced – Everything from the Security and Basic tiers, plus data about how Windows and Windows application use and performance.
- Full – Everything from the three other tiers and more. This information can include user content that may have triggered a crash or problem.
So what exactly does Microsoft capture and transmit, and how often? According to InvestmentWatch, Windows 10 transmits the following data back to the company:
- Typed text on keyboard sent every 30 minutes
- Transmits anything you say into a microphone
- Transcripts of things you say while using Cortana
- Index of all media files on your computer
- When your webcam is first enabled, 35mb of data
- Telemetry data
What does Windows 10 Telemetry data look like?
The Microsoft Privacy Dashboard (introduced March 2018) enables you to view and manage telemetry data in Windows 10. You do everything in a web-based dashboard (https://account.microsoft.com/privacy) upon signing in with Microsoft account credentials. Here you can view and clear data such as:
- Browsing history (Cortana-enabled with Edge)
- Search history (Bing)
- Location activity
- Cortana’s Notebook
- Heath activity collected by HealthVault, Microsoft Band, other trackers
- Privacy settings across Microsoft application ecosystem
As of Windows 10 v1803 (April 2018) you can view diagnostic data you’re transmitting to Microsoft using Windows Diagnostic Data Viewer. Open Windows Settings, and go to Privacy > Diagnostics & Feedback. You will need this install a free Microsoft app on your PC. Click the Diagnostic Data Viewer icon to begin.
Inside the app you see telemetry data grouped by category.
- Browsing history
- Device Connectivity and Configuration; settings and peripheral data
- Inking Typing and Speech Utterance; keyboard and microphone captures
- Product and Service Performance; reliability data and file queries
- Product and Service Usage; uptime, apps used, OS info
- Software Setup and Inventory; installs and updates for applications
How do I turn off telemetry?
To completely shut down telemetry the quick and easy way, Reddit user 10se1ucgo created a user-friendly program in Python that shuts down telemetry and diagnostic services. Aptly named DisableWinTracking, the program can be found for free on GitHub.
Another option is to use the Microsoft Telemetry Removal Tool, which works across Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 10. It goes far beyond turning off telemetry. The tool will disable your Windows Update settings, SkyDrive, and several other useful features. In short, it shuts down all the features that Windows 10 automates.
But keep in mind the fact that you’re running third party scripts and applications to fix a privacy issue. If sending Microsoft your telemetry data makes you feel squeamish, running a program from an unverified source probably does the same. So then what?
Disabling telemetry the manual way
Thankfully, there is documentation for turning off telemetry manually. Microsoft has published a TechNet article detailing how to disable certain features for Enterprise users. For users of Windows 10 Pro and Windows 10 Home, Reddit user lit3brit3 has compiled a list of common settings that controls the amount of telemetry collected and sent. Instead of running a script you can change each of these settings manually. It’s more time consuming, but cuts out any risk that you’re introducing anything malicious into your system.
Microsoft assures users that they collect telemetry data only to help them improve user experience and fix bugs and problems. Still many system administrators don’t want sensitive user or company information sent over the Internet. What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments if you support or are against the gathering of Windows 10 telemetry.
Originally published Oct. 14, 2015 and updated Oct. 9, 2018