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

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.

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

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
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.

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