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IT pros applaud new Windows 10 privacy controls

The Windows 10 Creators Update will provide new settings for users and IT admins to control more of the data the operating system collects and sends back to Microsoft.

IT and users will soon have more control and visibility around the data Microsoft collects from Windows 10.

The Windows 10 Creators Update, due in April, will include new privacy settings and configuration options that allow users and IT administrators to minimize the types of data the operating system sends back to Microsoft. IT pros are looking forward to Microsoft addressing their Windows 10 privacy concerns.

"As someone who is interested in security, I am happy to see Microsoft being more transparent," said Steven Powers, IT manager at Millar Inc., a medical technology provider in Houston. "I really like that I can both control and see what information is being shared."

How Windows 10 privacy settings work

The amount of data Windows 10 can collect -- on everything from errors and diagnostics to emails and user location -- has troubled IT, users and privacy advocates since the operating system's 2015 release.

Users have access to the Windows 10 privacy settings, which admins can also control through Group Policy. The upcoming changes in the Creators Update are designed to make it easier to change these settings, and they also add a new option to send less data back to Microsoft.

"What [Microsoft] has done is try to be very transparent and give you visibility," said Ric Opal, senior director at SWC Technology Partners, a Microsoft partner in Oak Brook, Ill.

Currently, there are three options for the amount and types of data Microsoft collects from Windows 10 Pro and Home users:

  • Basic. This setting today collects information on app usage, hardware and software configurations, crashes and security settings. Following the release of the Creators Update, it will only collect information on error reporting, device capabilities and what software is installed.
  • Enhanced. This option collects all the data in the Basic setting, plus more, including hardware performance and usage of Microsoft applications. The Creators Update will eliminate this option.
  • Full. This setting collects any data Microsoft says it needs to resolve issues, including information on app usage, emails, text messages, website visits, search terms and more.
This is the first really visible step that one of the major platform providers has taken.
Jack Narcottasenior analyst, Technology Business Research

There will also be new configuration options that appear when organizations upgrade from older versions of Windows or do a fresh install. These options allow IT to turn off location-based tracking, Cortana speech recognition, diagnostics, tips and advertisements.

Microsoft also this month released a web-based dashboard for users to see what information the company collects around browsing history, search history, location activity and Cortana's Notebook, which gathers information about users learned through the digital assistant. Microsoft said it will expand the features the web tool tracks.

Windows 10 privacy and paranoia

IT admins need visibility into what corporate data users share with Microsoft so they can stay in control of their environment. For example, regulated industries need to be aware of where their data is going to ensure they are maintaining compliance.

Many major operating systems, web browsers and websites collect information from users, and more often than not, the user doesn't even know about it, said Jack Narcotta, senior analyst at Technology Business Research, in Hampton, N.H.

"This is the first really visible step that one of the major platform providers has taken to show the information they take," Narcotta said.

Additionally, when companies such as Microsoft take data from users, they sometimes trade information with other companies for directive advertising purposes. That makes it even less clear who has access to what data. 

"In this day and age, I think everyone should be a bit more paranoid," Powers said. 

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