Microsoft slips user-tracking tools into Windows 7, 8 amidst Windows 10 privacy storm
Worried about Windows 10's deep-reaching user tracking? Some of it's coming to Windows 7 and 8, too.
Windows 10 is a deliciously good operating system, all things considered, but its abundant user-tracking has prompted many privacy-minded individuals to stay pat with older versions of Windows. Now, Microsoft’s providing those concerned individuals a reason to upgrade.
No, the company’s not walking back its privacy-encroaching features. Instead, Microsoft’s quietly rolling out updates that bake new tracking tools into Windows 7 and Windows 8.
The story behind the story: Privacy concerns have marred an otherwise sterling launch for Windows 10, which is already installed on 75 million PCs. Rolling out this Windows 7 and 8 updates amidst the controversy smacks of insensitivity—and it’s just plain poor timing, to boot.
All eyes on you
Ghacks discovered four recent KB updates for Windows 7 and 8, all designed to send Microsoft regular reports on your machine’s activities.
- KB3068708 – “This update introduces the Diagnostics and Telemetry tracking service to existing devices. By applying this service, you can add benefits from the latest version of Windows to systems that have not yet upgraded. The update also supports applications that are subscribed to Visual Studio Application Insights.” This update replaced KB3022345.
- KB3075249 – “This update adds telemetry points to the User Account Control (UAC) feature to collect information on elevations that come from low integrity levels.”
- KB3080149 – “This package updates the Diagnostics and Telemetry tracking service to existing devices. This service provides benefits from the latest version of Windows to systems that have not yet upgraded. The update also supports applications that are subscribed to Visual Studio Application Insights.”
The latter two updates are flagged as Optional, but KB3068708 holds Recommended status, which means it would be downloaded and installed if you have Windows Updates set to automatic. It’s only functional in PCs that participate in Microsoft’s Customer Experience Improvement Program, which already sends Microsoft information on how you use your computer.
Opting out of the CEIP isn’t a single straightforward flip to switch. You have to disable it in all the software you’ve agreed to use it with. From Microsoft’s CEIP website:
“Most programs make CEIP options available from the Help menu, although for some products, you might need to check settings, options, or preferences menus. Some pre-release products that are under development might require participation in CEIP to help ensure the final release of the product improves frequently used features and solves common problems that exist in the pre-release software.”
If you use Office’s default settings, it signs you up for Microsoft's CEIP. How-to Geek has a tutorial explaining how to disable it, though if sending information to Microsoft before didn’t bother you, this new update probably won’t either.
Disabling the tracking tools in the Recommended KB3068708 update isn’t simple, either. It connects to vortex-win.data.microsoft.com and settings-win.data.microsoft.com, which are hard-coded to bypass the Windows HOSTS file. In other words, it’s tricky to block unless you have a firewall that can block HTTPS connections as well as be configured manually, ExtremeTech explains. There are options in GPEdit.msc that allow you to disable application telemetry and CEIP participation, but it’s unknown if they behave correctly after the new patches are installed.
If you don’t want these new tracking tools on your PC, the best thing to do seems to be simply uninstalling the offending updates, then blocking them from being reinstalled.
To do so, head to Control Panel > Programs > Uninstall or change a program. Here, click View installed updates in the left-hand navigation pane. In the search box in the upper-right corner, search for the KB3068708, KB3022345, KB3075249, and KB3080149 updates by name. If they’re installed, they’ll pop right up. If you find one, right-click on it and select Uninstall to wipe it from your system.
To block the updates from being downloaded again, dive back into the Control Panel and head to System and Security > Windows Update > Check for updates. The system will look for updates, then say you have a certain number of updates available, separated by status (Optional, Recommended, Critical). Simply click the recommended updates link, find the KB3068708 and KB3022345 updates, then right-click them and select Hide update. Boom! Done.
Now dive into the optional updates and hide KB3075249 and KB3080149 as well.