Windows 10 April 2018 Update: Diagnostic Data Viewer improves transparency

All telemetry data transmitted from the operating system to Microsoft can now be viewed and searched. However, users still cannot turn off data collection.

(Icon: Microsoft)

Björn GreifEditor

As early as the launch of Windows 10 in mid-2015, Microsoft had to defend itself against accusations that its operating system collects too much data and does not adequately point this out to users. Since then, the Redmond-based company has been striving to improve transparency and data protection. With the Windows 10 April 2018 Update aka Spring Creators Update (version number 1803) which was released on Monday, it provides additional tools and privacy settings that actually should have been part of Windows 10 right from the start – like the Diagnostic Data Viewer.

In answer to continuing criticism from consumer and privacy advocates, the first Creators Update in April 2017 introduced a new setup process for privacy. Further improvements in the setup process and app permissions followed in October with the Fall Creators Update. With the release of the new Diagnostic Data Viewer, which users first have to download as an app from the Microsoft Store, the company commits “to be fully transparent on the diagnostic data collected from your Windows devices, how it is used, and to provide you with increased control over that data.”

Telemetry data can be viewed and deleted

The Diagnostic Data Viewer lets users check when Windows sent which diagnostic data to Microsoft’s servers.

The new Diagnostic Data Viewer (Source: Microsoft)
The new Diagnostic Data Viewer (Source: Microsoft)

However, it is still not possible to completely switch off data collection (except for the Enterprise version of Windows 10). With the options “Basic” and “Full”, users still only have the choice of transmitting less or more data. After all, they can now delete diagnostic data that has already been transmitted.

Once loaded and installed from the Microsoft Store, the Diagnostic Data Viewer provides a detailed insight into the Windows telemetry data. The tool lists the data in chronological order and offers several filters as well as a search function. Users can switch between a basic view and an extended view. The diagnostic data presented in the menu includes:

  • Common data, like the operating system’s name, the version, device ID, device class, diagnostic level selection and so on.
  • Device Connectivity and Configuration data such as device properties and capabilities, preferences and settings, peripherals, and device network information.
  • Product and Service Performance data that show device health, performance and reliability data, movie consumption functionality on the device and device file queries. It’s important to note that this functionality is not intended to capture user viewing or, listening habits.
  • Product and Service Usage data includes details about the usage of the device, operating system, applications, and services.
  • Software Setup and Inventory data such as installed applications and install history, and device update information.

You can access the Diagnostic Data Viewer via the privacy settings under “Diagnostics & feedback”. There, users can also request the deletion of diagnostic data recorded so far. The activated Data Viewer takes up to 1 Gigabyte of hard disk space.

Additional privacy settings

The April 2018 Update also introduces a new feature called “Timeline”. The Timeline provides a chronological overview of all user activities (website visits, apps used, documents opened) of the past 30 days. You can switch off the feature in the privacy settings under “Activity history” and delete the activity history.

Another new option in the privacy settings allows users to control the rights of UWP apps to access the file system of their device. For example, users can choose which apps developed for the Windows 10 platform get access to all of their files – including documents, pictures, videos and local OneDrive files. This way, they can prevent third parties from gaining access to their personal files.

The privacy dashboard allows Windows users to view and delete their activity history.
The privacy dashboard allows Windows users to view and delete their activity history.

The privacy dashboard introduced in early 2017 has already been updated by Microsoft on occasion of the European Data Protection Day in January. Since then, the online portal provides users with an activity history page where they can view and manage data stored by Microsoft for each account. Here you can delete individual entries or export the collected data from the dashboard.

Comfort at the expense of privacy

In their privacy statement, Microsoft openly admits to using the collected information for the purpose of “interest-based advertising” or “improving and personalizing” the user experience. Microsoft’s intentions therefore appear to be clear. What isn’t clear is what exactly is done with the data that is stored on their servers. Being a U.S. company, the software giant could be required by order of the court to disclose the data to authorities like the NSA, for example. In the interest of their privacy, Windows 10 users should therefore carefully consider whether it would not be better to forgo some of the operating system’s convenience features that require the transmission of data to Microsoft.

Users can change all settings relevant to privacy at any time in the “Privacy” section of Windows settings. This is also where users should check whether any privacy settings have been reset to the default values after the installation of the April 2018 Update.