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Microsoft eliminates one Windows 10 telemetry setting, renames others

Microsoft eliminates one Windows 10 telemetry setting, renames others

Redmond changes its diagnostic data collection settings debuted in a recent Insider build, implying that they won’t make it into the impending upgrade

Credit: Dreamstime

Microsoft said it would eliminate one of the diagnostic data collection settings in Windows 10 and change the naming of two others.

Redmond cited a 2019 effort designed to give enterprise customers more control over what data Microsoft harvested.

"As part of the Microsoft initiative to increase transparency and control over data, we're making some changes to the Settings app and Group Policy settings that will start showing up in Windows Insider builds this month," wrote Brandon LeBlanc, a senior program manager, in a March 5 post to a company blog.

Windows Insider is the Microsoft preview program that offers customers early peeks at Windows 10's under-construction code. The diagnostic changes debuted in build 19577, which was released March 5.

Enhanced, be gone!

Windows 10 launched with three telemetry settings — Basic, Enhanced and Full — and a fourth, Security, was later added. In ascending order of the amount of data Microsoft collects, the four were Security, Basic, Enhanced and Full.

Enhanced got the ax.

That setting included all the data collection specified by the Security and Basic options, then added additional types of information to the total that Microsoft gleaned from machines. Among what Enhanced harvested were more operating system events, including Hyper-V and Cortana; specific events from apps bundled with Windows 10 or downloaded from the Microsoft Store; and all crash dumps.

Microsoft claimed that the Enhanced setting retrieved packages between 239KB and 348KB per day, per device.

With build 19577, systems that had previously been set to Enhanced were to default to Basic, the next level lower in collection quantity, according to a message posted to the Insider section of Microsoft Answers.

Name changes

Along with the deletion of the Enhanced setting, Microsoft will rename the others:

  • The Security option will be retitled "Diagnostic Data Off"
  • Basic will be called "Required Diagnostic Data"
  • Full will go by "Optional Diagnostic Data"

Those labels do better describe the setting than what they replaced — the originals were so muzzy as to make customers guess at what they defined — and so at least edge toward Microsoft's promise of transparency.

The "Diagnostic Data Off" — formerly Security — should be exactly that, as Microsoft has long defined the option as "only the diagnostic data info that is required to keep Windows devices ... protected with the latest security updates."

The company admits to some collecting — OS, device ID, device class — but the option waives all user content and data that might finger the user, including company name.

"Required Diagnostic Data" (formerly Basic) and "Optional Diagnostic Data" (tagged as Full previously) also are more accurate, although neither gave clues as to what may be collected, making them almost as imprecise as their predecessors.

The first label, "Required..." may have been chosen because that telemetry level has been the Windows 10 default since version 1903, the spring feature upgrade of last year. The second, "Optional..." seems like a catch-all, which it may well be, that will include everything Microsoft wants to collect that is not in Required.

Unclear telemetry

Because the diagnostic changes are limited to Windows Insider and may not reach production-grade builds for some time, it's no surprise that they have not been documented. Microsoft noted that, in fact.

"We will publish additional information about the revised diagnostic policies as we approach public release," stated the reply in Microsoft Answers.

Although the renaming of Basic and Full as "Required..." and "Optional..." seemed straightforward, the removal of the Enhanced level left unanswered questions. Would data collected under that setting be shifted up to "Optional..." or down to "Required..." or split between the two? It would be uncharacteristic of Microsoft and its telemetric practices to stop collecting a specific data category.

Microsoft said nothing of the oddball setting it introduced in late 2017 — dubbed "Enhanced (Limited)" — that restricted data collection to the minimum necessary for the then-Windows Analytics service (rebranded "Desktop Analytics" when Microsoft retired the earlier label at the end of January 2020).

The telemetry Microsoft collects is used by enterprise customers in Desktop Analytics to help make update and upgrade readiness calls. Will there be something similar in either "Required..." or "Optional..." with the abandonment of Enhanced?

Nor did Microsoft hint at when these changes would reach non-Insider customers. The build number for the Insider update where the data collection modifications appeared was higher than the one identified as the basis for Windows 10 2004, the year's first — perhaps only — feature upgrade (build 19041), implying that the new telemetry settings won't make it into the impending upgrade.

Microsoft's talk of transparency and control falls somewhat flat when so much of the data collection nuts-and-bolts remains fuzzy.


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