Software

Windows 10 snooping: Microsoft reveals what data it collects about you and why

Ahead of next week's rollout of the Creators Update, Microsoft is releasing more information about the diagnostic data it collects.

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The Windows 10 Creators Update introduces this new privacy settings screen.

Image: Microsoft

Microsoft is shedding more light on the data that Windows 10 collects from users' machines.

Ahead of next week's rollout of the Creators Update, Microsoft is releasing more information on the diagnostic data it gathers.

The additional transparency comes after Microsoft faced the threat of enforcement action from various European regulators over the "excessive" and somewhat opaque nature of the OS' data collection.

Microsoft has for the first time released the complete list of the diagnostic data sent back at the Basic level, the lowest level that can be set by Home and Pro users. The firm has also provided a detailed summary of the data harvested at the Basic and Full level.

The volume of data collected at this Basic level has also been reduced by about half.

"One of our most important improvements in the Creators Update is a set of privacy enhancements that will be mostly behind the scenes," said Terry Myerson, Microsoft's executive VP of the Windows and Devices Group, in a blogpost .

The body representing EU privacy watchdogs, the Article 29 Working Party, users recently criticized Microsoft for the lack of clarity over the information Windows 10 collects and how it is used.

"Microsoft should clearly explain what kinds of personal data are processed for what purposes. Without such information, consent cannot be informed, and therefore, not valid," it said at the time . The group has not yet commented on whether this additional transparency addresses their concerns, but Microsoft said the changes were informed by the issues raised by the Article 29 Working Party.

The Creators Update introduces a new privacy settings menu, designed to make it easier for users to choose what information they are comfortable being sent back to Microsoft. Users can toggle off the collection of various pieces of information, including location data when using maps, voice recordings when using the Cortana virtual assistant, or diagnostic information related to what they type and write, and the apps they use.

Every user will be presented with the menu when upgrading. However, these settings won't be toggled off by default, but will rather reflect that user's existing privacy settings.

For those installing Windows 10 on a new machine after the Creators Update, the settings will be toggled on by default, as part of Microsoft's recommended settings for using Windows 10's various internet-connected services, such as Cortana and OneDrive cloud storage.

There remains a discrepancy between how different editions of Windows 10 approach privacy. While Home users can only drop the level of data collection to "Basic" level, users of Enterprise, Education, and IoT Core editions are able to reduce collection further, to what Microsoft calls the "Security" level.

According to Microsoft, the "Security" level is the bare minimum necessary to keep Windows machines "protected with the latest security updates". At this level Windows Update will not function correctly and organizations are required to use alternate methods, such as Windows Server Update Services, to patch machines.

Alongside recent changes to how it handles user data, Microsoft has also launched a web-based privacy dashboard , which lets Microsoft account holders check the data Microsoft has collected about their use of its various services, covering information related to location, search, browsing and Cortana.

Microsoft is also improving the in-product information about privacy and updating the Microsoft privacy statement to include more detail and reflect privacy changes in the Creators Update.

Read more on Windows 10...

About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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