Windows 10 Reportedly Records And Uploads Your Activity History Without Permission

Updated 12/13/2018: Microsoft has issued a response to its handling of Activity History in Windows 10, which you can read here.

Windows 10
Microsoft is catching some heat for what appears on the surface to be a privacy violation in Windows 10, though what's actually happening might just be poor wording on the company's part. The issue at hand is a setting in Windows 10 to disable the OS from sending a user's activity history to the mother ship. At first glance, it seems Microsoft collects this data even when the setting is disabled.

This was brought to attention by a user on Reddit who wondered why "some applications are still showing on the privacy dashboard" even after disabling the activity history setting. His case doesn't appear to be an outlier—we were able to reproduce the issue on our PC and saw the same thing the user did, which is a history of opened apps.

Activity History

To check this yourself, follow these steps:
  • Go to Settings > Privacy > Activity History
  • Uncheck the 'Send my activity history to Microsoft' box
  • Click the 'Clear' button under 'Clear activity history' at the bottom
  • Click on 'Privacy dashboard' on the right-hand side
If you followed the above steps, it will open up your default browser and take you to your privacy dashboard on the web. Click the 'Activity history' in the browser window and see what appears. On our PC, the setting to send our activity history to Microsoft was already disabled, yet like the poster on Reddit, we saw a history of Microsoft apps we had used, such as Skype and OneDrive.

Seems pretty clear that Microsoft is ignoring the privacy setting, right? Well, as noted by How To Geek, Microsoft also collects of a history of launched applications by way of its Windows 10 diagnostics. You can find this by going to Settings > Privacy > Diagnostics & feedback.

Here's the thing though—on our PC, it was set to Basic and not Full. This means it should "send only info about your device, its settings and capabilities, and whether it is performing properly." The Full setting casts a wider net and allows Windows 10 to collect "additional info about health, device activity, and enhanced error reporting."

It's still not clear if Microsoft is outright violating its own privacy policy or if the activity history in the privacy dashboard is incorrectly named, as How To Geek surmises. Either way, at the very least it's a confusing situation.

Some users report solving the apparent problem by following the steps found here, which consists of making changes to the registry. You should always tread carefully when navigating the registry, but if you're concerned about Microsoft collecting your app history, it might be worth a shot.