By now we are aware that most major entities such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Yahoo, etc. all track user with data collecting and "phone home" features. The questions we are always left with is exactly what and how much data are they collecting, what they are doing with it, how do they store and archive it, and is it safe????
Windows 10 has been a full public release now for over a year. Its biggest complaints seem to be about its heavy handed security model and intrusiveness. This seems to have been slowly ramping up more and more in every Windows release. These telemetry and data collecting features ARE present in Windows 7-8, but its not nearly as intrusive and baked in the OS.
While there is a lot of things we do not know, we do know some features will not operate in Windows without certain telemetry enabled. Windows Updates, Bing, Hotspot sharing, Office 365, Cortana, One Drive, among others. Unfortunately Microsoft does not come out and say it their official statement:
"Microsoft collects data to operate effectively and provide you the best experiences with our products. You provide some of this data directly, such as when you create a Microsoft account, submit a search query to Bing, speak a voice command to Cortana, upload a document to OneDrive, purchase an MSDN subscription, sign up for Office 365, or contact us for support. We get some of it by recording how you interact with our products by, for example, using technologies like cookies, and receiving error reports or usage data from software running on your device. We also obtain data from third parties."
Diagnostic and usage data
Windows gives a limited ability to the average user on what they can and cannot disable and or limit. An example of that is shown below where under Settings>Privacy>Feedback & Diagnostics. They have a couple settings that any (non domain or Group Policy) user can change related to data collection. They are "Feedback Frequency" and "Diagnostic and usage data". Windows has a bit of explanation on the Diagnostic and usage data.
- Basic sends data that is vital to the operation of Windows. It helps keep Windows and apps secure, up to date, and running properly by letting Microsoft know the capabilities of your device, what is installed, and whether Windows is operating correctly. Basic includes basic error reporting back to Microsoft. Basic data consists of:
- Configuration data, including the manufacturer of your device, model, number of processors, display size and resolution, date, region and language settings, and other data about the capabilities of the device.
- The software (including drivers and firmware supplied by device manufacturers), installed on the device.
- Performance and reliability data, such as which programs are launched on a device, how long they run, how quickly they respond to input, how many problems are experienced with an app or device, and how quickly information is sent or received over a network connection.
- Network and connection data, such as the device's IP address, number of network connections in use, and data about the networks you connect to, such as mobile networks, Bluetooth, and identifiers (BSSID and SSID), connection requirements and speed of Wi-Fi networks you connect to.
- Other hardware devices connected to the device.
- Enhanced includes everything in Basic, plus data about how you use Windows, including Microsoft and third party software (apps, drivers, etc.) that run on Windows. This data includes which apps you use most often, how long you use certain features or apps, how often you use Windows Help and Support, and which services you use to sign in to apps. Enhanced lets us collect diagnostic data related to system or app crashes. If you select this option, we'll also be able to provide you with an enhanced and more personalized Windows experience.
- Full includes everything in Basic and Enhanced levels, plus additional diagnostic data including the memory state of your device when a system or app crash occurs (which may unintentionally include parts of a document you were using when a problem occurred). It also turns on advanced diagnostic features that can collect additional data from your device, which helps us further troubleshoot and fix problems. When we learn that devices are experiencing problems that we have trouble diagnosing or replicating internally, we will randomly select a small number of devices from those at the Full level that are experiencing those problems from which to gather the data needed to diagnose and fix the problem (including user content that may have triggered the issue). If an error report contains personal data, we won't use that information to identify, contact, or target advertising to you. Full is the recommended option for the best Windows experience and the most effective troubleshooting.
There are ways through group policies and registry editing to further shutdown these telemetry and data collection functions. I have came across some simpler methods and ways to clamp down on these along with the goods and bad's when doing it. I will go over these in detail in the next post.