Windows 10 includes a telemetry service that automatically sends diagnostic and usage data about your computer to Microsoft. These settings have caused a lot of controversy since Windows 10’s release, but what do they actually do?
Today, we’ll look at what kind of data this actually sends to Microsoft. You can select your desired telemetry level—or “diagnostic and usage data” level—from Settings > Privacy > Feedback & diagnostics. On the consumer editions of Windows 10, you can select either Basic or Full usage data that will be sent to Microsoft. Enterprise users can select the Security level instead.
The Creators Update simplified things, removing the Enhanced level and giving average Windows 10 users a choice between only Basic and Full usage data. Microsoft now offers a Privacy Dashboard website in an attempt to be more transparent, too.
Security (Enterprise and Education Only)
The lowest possible level, “Security”, is only available in Windows 10 Enterprise or Education, but we’re going to talk about it first since the other levels build off this one. The telemetry data sent under the Security banner is meant to help keep your Windows PC and other Windows PCs secure.
Security data includes basic data about the “Connected User Experience and Telemetry” component settings, including information about the operating system, device identifier, and whether the device is a server or desktop PC.
The Security level must be enabled via group policy on the relevant editions of Windows, not the Settings app. It’s available at Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Data Collection and Preview Builds > Allow Telemetry in group policy.
Basic is the lowest telemetry level you can choose on Windows 10 Home or Professional PC. When you choose Basic, Windows 10 sends all the Security data to Microsoft along with more data. This information is designed to help improve application stability and compatibility.
In addition to the Security data, Windows 10 sends basic device information about the PC, such as the specifications of its webcam, battery attributes, processor and memory specifications, and other hardware details. It also sends some software information, like the version of Internet Explorer installed on the PC and the edition of Windows 10 you’re running.
Basic also includes information about application quality and compatibility. Quality data includes details about application freezes and crashes, as well as how much CPU time and memory are used for a specific app. Compatibility data includes information about installed Internet Explorer add-ons, app usage information (how long an app was used and when it was started, for example), and details about connected accessories and hardware drivers. Basic includes information about the Windows Store—application installs, updates, removals, page views, and other details.
This level also sends information about the “Connected User Experience and Telemetry” service to Microsoft, allowing Microsoft to see how well the service is functioning, when it last uploaded an event, and if it had trouble uploading event details to Microsoft.
Starting with the Creators Update, Microsoft now provides a complete, very detailed list of all the data collected in the Basic telemetry level.
Full (The Default)
“Full” telemetry is the default level you get when you install Windows 10 Home or Professional. It includes all the information from the Security and Basic levels, as well as more information. This level gives Microsoft the access it needs to identify and fix specific problems.
The additional information collected includes details about how Windows components, Microsoft applications, and Microsoft hardware devices are functioning and which features you’re using. This gives Microsoft more information about how people use the operating system rather than just the stability and performance data included in the Basic level.
At the Full level, the telemetry service will gather data about operating system events, giving Microsoft more details about how system components like networking, storage, Cortana, the file system, and the Hyper-V virtualization service are functioning. Microsoft gets more details about how which features Windows users use and how they’re functioning rather than just problem reports.
Windows will also gather events from certain Microsoft applications—think pre-installed applications like Microsoft Edge, Mail, and Photos—as well as Microsoft hardware devices like Microsoft HoloLens and the Surface Hub. Microsoft can use this information to understand how people are using its applications and hardware devices.
The telemetry service will also gather crash dumps (excluding larger heap dumps and full dumps) and send them to Microsoft. This gives Microsoft more information about system crashes.
If Microsoft can’t gather data via internal testing, it can gather additional data like registry information, diagnostics via dxdiag, powercfg, and msinfo32, and larger crash dumps (like heap dumps and full dumps) from a small number of PCs with Full telemetry enabled that have experienced the problem. According to Microsoft, such requests must be approved by “Microsoft’s privacy governance team” before an engineer can gather these details from PCs.
If you opt into the Windows Insider Preview Program, which is designed to help test pre-release versions of Windows 10 and fix problems, you’re automatically set at the “Full” level. Your device will send even more telemetry information to Microsoft if you’re using an Insider build of Windows 10, giving Microsoft’s developers information on how new builds of Windows 10 are performing, how new features are working, and if there are any compatibility problems. That’s the point of the Insider Preview program, after all.
Starting with the Creators Update, Microsoft now provides a complete list of the data Windows 10 collects at the Full level.
Which Should You Choose?
Which level should you choose on your own PC? That’s up to you and how comfortable you are sharing information with Microsoft. Microsoft recommends the Full level because it gives them the most information and helps them identify and fix problems that may be specific to your computer’s configuration, at least in theory. You can also choose Basic, depending on how comfortable you are with sending this data to Microsoft. Note, however, that some features may not work on lower levels.
Some businesses may want to choose the Security level to minimize the data sent to Microsoft from critical systems. This may even be necessary to comply with certain laws and regulations in some cases.
For more specific details, consult Microsoft’s in-depth guide to the telemetry service for IT professionals.