Software

Windows 10: Now you can see every bit of data Microsoft harvests from your PC

The Windows Diagnostic Data Viewer was made available yesterday to those testing early builds of Windows 10 under the Windows Insider program.

Microsoft has revealed an app that lets Windows 10 users see exactly what data it's collecting from their PCs.

The Windows Diagnostic Data Viewer was made available yesterday to users testing early builds of Windows 10 under the Windows Insider program.

The viewer lets Windows 10 PC admins examine the data sent to Microsoft by the Universal Telemetry Client, something that was previously only possible in the Windows 10 Enterprise Edition.

The update is part of an ongoing effort by Microsoft to address concerns about the amount of data collected by Windows 10, with European regulators even threatening enforcement action over the issue. Since that action was threatened Microsoft has made a number of changes, including introducing a dashboard that makes it simpler to toggle privacy settings and reducing the amount of data it collects from non-Windows 10 Enterprise users.

The Diagnostic Data Viewer includes the following information:

  • Common Data
    • The Operating System's name, the Version, Device ID, Device Class, Diagnostic level selection and so on.
  • Device Connectivity and Configuration
    • Device properties and capabilities, preferences and settings, peripherals, and device network information.
  • Product and Service Performance
    • Device health, performance and reliability data, movie consumption functionality on the device and device file queries. Microsoft stresses this is "not intended to capture user viewing or, listening habits".
  • Product and Service Usage
    • Details about the usage of the device, operating system, applications, and services.
  • Software Setup and Inventory
    • Installed applications and install history, device update information.
  • Browsing History data
  • Inking, Typing, and Speech Utterance data

The viewer can filter data by the categories above, and also lets users search for specific terms.

However, despite Microsoft's intention to make the viewer available to all users, the information the viewer shows is unlikely to be intelligible to everyone.

SEE: Windows 10: Streamline your work with these power tips (free TechRepublic PDF)

As shown below, the data the viewer displays is split into a key, labelling what the data is, and a value. What these values mean is sometimes obvious, for instance a timestamp, however they also are sometimes numeric codes without explanation of what they refer to.

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Image: Microsoft/Ambar Soni

Those in the Windows Insider program's Fast and Skip Ahead rings can try out the viewer by updating to build 17803.

The viewer is accessible by navigating to Settings > Privacy > Diagnostics & feedback. Enable the Diagnostic Data Viewer toggle and then click the button to launch the app. Once the app is launched, users can drill down into the data by selecting a "diagnostic event" from the left column and browsing the list of data collected.

Windows Insiders will be able to provide feedback on improvements they'd like to see to the viewer, which should be available to all Windows 10 users following the 'Redstone 4' major feature update this Spring.

Yesterday, Microsoft also announced a series of other changes aimed at improving user privacy.

The Microsoft Privacy Dashboard has a new Activity History page, which provides a clearer summary of the data saved by your Microsoft account. Upcoming changes in the "coming months" will allow Windows 10 users to view and manage data about the media they watch/listen to on their PC and add product and service activity to the Activity History page. Also in the pipeline is the ability to delete specific items of data recorded by your Microsoft account and to export any data from the dashboard.

However, Windows 10 Enterprise remains the only edition where users can virtually disable data collection by Windows 10, with Microsoft saying a base level of data collection is necessary to run Windows Update in other editions.

Alongside the Diagnostic Data Viewer, the latest Insider build of Windows 10 included various updates. Microsoft has changed the Windows Timeline feature to provide the option to delete all activities from the past hour or day and to default to only showing the past four days of activities from devices signed into your Microsoft account. Microsoft also added an extended user-mode API for third-party virtualization stacks and applications, made Windows Hello easier to set up, added an ability to turn off auto-hide on scroll bars, improved controls over which Universal Windows Program apps can access user folders, and added a new Fonts page to the Settings app.

In a post about the Insider build, Dona Sarkar, leader of the Windows Insider program, also confirmed that the forthcoming tabbed windows feature known as Sets won't be ready for the Redstone 4 update.

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The new Diagnostic Data Viewer

Image: Microsoft/Ambar Soni

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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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