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Win10 Registry Includes AllowExperimentation Key

If you search the Registry on installations of Windows 10 Pro or higher versions (Enterprise, Education, Workstation) you can find all kinds of interesting stuff. Case in point: those who look will see that the Win10 registry includes AllowExperimentation key. It appears in two locations, in fact:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\PolicyManager\current\device\System
KEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\PolicyManager\default\System\AllowExperimentation

Kind of makes you wonder why it’s there, and what it’s for, right?

What’s Up with Win10 Registry Includes AllowExperimentation Key?

I learned about this at TenForums, thanks to an eagle-eyed, long-time member and guru there whose handle is “dalchina.” He produces a screen from the German freeware program O&O Shutup10 to explain things a bit:

Win10 Registry Includes AllowExperimentation Key.O&Oinfo

Hmmm. This sounds interesting, but also a little scary. What’s the real deal here?
[Click image for full-sized view.]

MakeUseOf Sheds More Light…

Obviously, there’s more going on here than meets the eye. An article from technology website “MakeUseOf” (aka MUO) sheds a little more light on the subject. It’s entitled “How to Disable Microsoft’s Settings Experiments in Windows 10,” and it too makes an interesting read. It’s not completely accurate any more, though. Before I explain, here’s what it says (quoted verbatim, ‘cept I added a link to ShutUp10 and some highlights):

One of the newest changes allows Microsoft to “conduct experiments” with the settings on your PC. It’s not present on the stable version of Windows 10, and only exists in the Pro and higher versions. This suggests that Microsoft might be testing it with Insiders for a full release later. You can disable this experimenting with a simple tweak if you like.

The easier method is using the Windows 10 privacy tool ShutUp10, which includes a switch to Disable conducting experiments with this machine by Microsoft. Enabling this option changes a Registry value, which you can do on your own if you don’t want to use the privacy tool.

The first highlighted passage doesn’t match my hands-on checks yesterday and today. Indeed, I found these keys in Insider Preview builds 17738.1000 and 18219.1000. These are the current Insider Preview Fast Ring and Skipeahead Builds, respectively. But I also found them in the latest production release on half-a-dozen PCs running the 177134 build. Interestingly, they don’t appear in both …current.. and …default… locations in the Insider Preview versions, but they do appear in both places in the production builds.

Looking to the Registry

Here’s what that registry key looks like in the …default… location (see graphic for complete key specification):

Win10 Registry Includes AllowExperimentation Key.defkey

There’s a surprising amount of information associated with this key.

According to the MUO story the value of the key in the …current… location determines its status. It reports a 0 (zero) value disables the setting, 1 (the default) allows experimentation with device settings, and 2 allows “full experimentation” (whatever that means). On PCs running 17134, this value was set to 1 (I guess that’s why it’s identified as the default value) in the …current… location. Again: it was absent in that location on the Insider Preview PCs. Seems completely reversed from what I expected, but there it is.

Should You Be Worried?

When things like this pop up in the media, a certain alarmist constituency that I lovingly like to identify as the “tin-foil hat brigade” tends to sound off loudly. I’m not so sure it’s a big deal one way or the other. Certainly, on Insider Preview PCs, I’d say something like this is fair game as part and parcel of obtaining the feedback that people who join the program agree to provide. As far as PCs running public release builds go, I’m not inclinced to worry myself. But if you are, feel free to reset the key’s …current… value to 0 (zero) to make sure it’s turned off. Easy to do, and might confer some added piece of mind.

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