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Windows 10 is still sending data to Microsoft, even if you don’t want it to

When Microsoft first launched Windows 10 a few years ago, users quickly discovered that the operating system would collect and send data about them back to Microsoft unless explicitly told not to.

In the years that followed, Microsoft created a Privacy Dashboard that would let all Windows 10 users better manage their privacy settings and prevent data from being sent to Microsoft’s servers. A new report now reveals that Microsoft may still be collecting some data from your Windows 10 device, even if you thought it wasn’t.

A Redditor noticed that Microsoft was still receiving Activity History data even though the setting was disabled on his machine. As ZDNet explains, Activity History is a crucial feature that makes the new Timeline feature work.

With Timeline, released as part of the Windows 10 April 2018 Update, Windows users would be able to resume their activity on other devices and scroll back in time on specific apps and see website activity from the past. Naturally, someone would have to log that data to make it readily available to users — and that someone happens to be Microsoft — in order for Timeline to work across devices.

Windows 10 users, however, have the ability to disable the “Send my activity history to Microsoft” option in Activity History. But even if that box stays unchecked, apps and browsing data will still appear in the Privacy Dashboard in the Activity History section.

There is one explanation for the issue, HowToGeek says, and also a fix. The Windows 10 diagnostics data collection is set to Full by default instead of Basic. That’s how your activity reaches Microsoft’s servers, and that’s also how you can prevent it.

In other words, Windows 10 may indeed still collect data about you without your permission, but it’s all because Microsoft apparently failed to inform users how these data collection programs work, and how they’re connected. Hopefully, future versions of Windows 10 will prevent this privacy-infringing behavior.

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Microsoft Accused of Collecting Data Even When You Opt Out in Windows 10

There’s a controversy stirring once again with Windows 10 and its use of data collection. Earlier this year, Microsoft introduced a feature called Timeline, which allows you to jump back to work you were previously doing. You can also configure the feature to sync data from your PC to the cloud or to work across multiple devices. Windows refers to this collection of information about your previous device behavior as your Activity History. We’re going to call this AH1, for reasons that will shortly become apparent.


The issues started when reddit user a_potato (I don’t judge) noted that he’d completely disabled AH1 data collection by unchecking the boxes above, yet found that his PC actions were still showing up in the Activity History as shown within Microsoft’s privacy dashboard. We’re going to refer to this log of data as AH2. In both cases, Microsoft refers to this as your account “Activity History.”

Image by a_potato

Data was still being logged to the Microsoft Privacy Dashboard online, not because AH1’s switch was broken, but because the Activity History controls you need to disable AH1 involve turning off Timeline, while the behavior you need to deactivate to turn off AH2 is to make certain you have set your Diagnostic data collection level to Basic, rather than Full. And since both capabilities are referred to as “Activity History,” it’s easy to confuse them.

As a Microsoft employee told HowToGeek:

Microsoft is committed to customer privacy, being transparent about the data we collect and use for your benefit, and we give you controls to manage your data. In this case, the same term “Activity History” is used in both Windows 10 and the Microsoft Privacy Dashboard. Windows 10 Activity History data is only a subset of the data displayed in the Microsoft Privacy Dashboard. We are working to address this naming issue in a future update.

On the one hand, one shouldn’t confuse incompetence with malice, and UI design has never been Microsoft’s forte. Given the fact that Windows 10’s basic control systems are still stretched between the XP-era Control Panel and the Fluent Settings panel, with some controls overlapping in both areas and some unique to one menu or the other, it’s not exactly surprising that the company would struggle to refine and centralize its UI. On the other hand, Microsoft is no stranger to the use of so-called dark patterns — patterns of behavior that mislead the user by implying that they are taking one kind of action when they actually aren’t. The wording under AH1 implies that disabling this stops such information from flowing to Microsoft. It doesn’t.

And therein lies the actual problem, here, from a customer service perspective. Having proven itself perfectly willing to adopt malware tactics to push people into upgrading to Windows 10, it’s harder to believe that Microsoft is telling the truth when it paints this as an accident. It may not have the direct incentives Facebook does to treat user data so cavalierly, but the same thirst for user information that infected companies like Facebook and Google has touched nearly the entire internet by now, to one degree or another.

Microsoft Accused of Collecting Data Even When You Opt Out in Windows 10 - ExtremeTech

The sad thing is that Amazon, Apple, and Google are far more invasive, yet are treated as "normal".

But you have a choice to use them or not use them. The alternative to Windows is Linux.

Don't be silly! You can buy a Mac. Apple will spy on you too!


True, but as more software becomes cloud based, and more games become able to run flawlessly on Linux, and Linux distros become more user friendly, the reasons to continue using Windows become fewer. As it is now Ubuntu is about the stage of Windows 3.1, and that's dangerously close for Microsoft.


I currently have 7 active WIndows PCs in my home. If WIndows moves to a subscription I can easily see me having 1 Windows machines and 6 Ubuntu.

0 Likes ShutUp10

Is a tremendous free piece of software that does nothing but disable all the known telemetry in WIndows 10.

I use it on all my machines. It also makes your machine a bit snappier afterwords on older cpus. Amazing how many CPU cycles all that spying is doing!