Yes, You Can Disable Telemetry in Windows 10. But Should You?
Before we dive in here, let’s talk a bit. What is telemetry? Why would you want to disable telemetry in Windows 10? There are no wholly satisfying answers, but we can at least provide some technical insight that might help. First, the big questions. If you’re interested in the conversation, please keep on reading. If you just want the tutorial, skip to the end.
What is Telemetry in Windows 10?
Simply put, telemetry is data that Windows 10 collects from your computer about how it’s used and what’s going on when problems occur. Does a particular app crash frequently? Windows 10 logs that information and sends it to Microsoft’s software engineers for analysis. Did your PC experience a blue screen of death and reboot? Windows records this as well. Some have suggested that, rather than tracking telemetry, Microsoft should simply use data from forms filled out by users. However, this isn’t a good idea for a couple of reasons.
Okay, So Why Is Telemetry in Windows 10 Better Than User Reports?
First, when a user sees a program crash, they don’t know why it crashed. Maybe they were just typing a letter to grandma. Maybe they were retouching a picture in the latest Windows Store photo editing app. Maybe they know that it happens when they click a particular box or use a particular keyboard shortcut. What they don’t know is: what other system processes were active? What memory address space was the program using? Did the crashing app in question try to access memory it shouldn’t have? Did the app try to use a processor function incorrectly or that doesn’t exist on the user’s particular computer? These are things telemetry tracks but a user can’t.
Second, most users won’t report their crashes anyway. They’ll try to troubleshoot on their own if they can, and if that doesn’t help, they’ll take it to someone who can. Most of the time, these problems and solutions happen in isolation, which means Microsoft can’t use the data to make the operating system better. Sure, they do their own research, but with millions of hardware combinations in the wild, they can’t possibly find every bug out there. And while user reports will eventually surface problems, it takes longer for engineers to get their eyes on a pattern. Telemetry allows powerful servers to look for patterns in Windows’ behavior and find problems faster.
Are There Any Real Examples of Telemetry Helping In Practice?
As it turns out, yes! Over on the Windows Blog, they describe a scenario involving a faulty graphics driver that happened last fall. Here’s the relevant bit:
A great example of how this data was used effectively was just last month, when aggregate data showed us that a particular version of a graphics driver was crashing on some Windows 10 PCs, which then caused a reboot. This driver was not widely used, but still the issue was impacting customers. We immediately contacted the partner who builds the driver and worked with them to turn around a fix to Windows Insiders within 24 hours. We used the data on Insiders’ devices to confirm that the problem was resolved, and then rolled out the fix to the broad public via an update the next day – all-in-all, this data helped us find, fix and resolve a significant problem within 48 hours.
Long story short: telemetry exists to provide Microsoft’s software engineers with information on problems people have with their computers so they can more quickly fix those problems via updates.
So Far This Sounds Fine. Why Should I Care?
We’ll make this simple: you should care because some people believe that collecting telemetry is somehow Microsoft getting access to your personal data. There are a lot of myths out there about this. For example, some claim that using Windows 10 means Microsoft “owns all your data”, which isn’t true. Or that it means they can read all your content to market ads to you like Google does with data in Gmail and Google Drive, but this is also not true, as Microsoft’s terms of service clearly state. But let’s be clear: when you’re collecting system level data, there is a remote possibility that something personal winds up swept up in the telemetry. According to Microsoft:
We collect a limited amount of information to help us provide a secure and reliable experience. This includes data like an anonymous device ID and device type. … This doesn’t include any of your content or files, and we take several steps to avoid collecting any information that directly identifies you, such as your name, email address or account ID.
In today’s connected world, privacy is rightly a huge concern for us all. With so many cloud based services peeking over our shoulders, we should be wary. Asking tough questions about how our computer or phone operating systems work is essential to this process, and it’s wise to do so. But what we shouldn’t do give in to unfounded paranoia. Windows 10 can collect data, that’s true. You can adjust how much data you’re willing to share from your PC (none of which is ever personally identifiable) by simply tweaking a few settings. Whatever else you do, be wary of click-bait articles by amateur “analysts” who make wild claims.
So should you disable telemetry in Windows 10? In my view, what we gain by leaving telemetry on is worth leaving it on for. Microsoft can find and fix Windows problems faster than ever before, thanks to telemetry. That means everyone gets a better experience with reliability. In addition, they use telemetry to analyze how people use Windows for work and play. As a result, new updates can fix UI shortcomings and streamline the steps it takes to do the things we want to do. These things are good for everyone. For me, the answer is clear: leave telemetry turned on. If you feel differently, keep reading.
Telemetry gets collected and sent to Microsoft via the Connected User Experiences and Telemetry Service. FYI, this was formerly called the Diagnostics Tracking Service in pre-1511 versions of Windows 10. This is a default part of Windows 10, but came to Windows 8 and 7 via an optional update shortly after the launch of Windows 10. You may or may not have it installed, but here are the steps to turn it off.
And that’s how to disable telemetry in Windows 10. Surprisingly easy, right? You may occasionally see errors in your event log (if you’re the type to look at event logs) regarding this service, but you can safely ignore them.