Although Microsoft appeared to answer critics, and even lawmakers at the beginning of the year by incorporating even more privacy controls into Windows 10 (which really just adds to the flood of settings you now have to be mindful of) it would appear that the toggles do little to nothing in reality.
Recent versions of Windows include an 'Activity History' which allows users to "jump back" on certain activities across devices if they have it enabled, and view a history of those activities in 'Timeline', which was introduced with the Windows 10 April 2018 Update, again, only if you choose to have those features enabled, although they are by default.
Timeline relies on the following settings being enabled:
- Store my activity history on this device.
- Send my activity history to Microsoft.
- Show activities for specific accounts.
... with the first option tracking activities on the device and the second, sending those activities to Microsoft.
Even with all three options in Settings > Activity history disabled, you may still find all of the related data listed on Microsoft's Privacy Dashboard website at account.microsoft.com. Currently, only Edge and Microsoft Office support 'Apps' tracking at this time, as noted by a user on Reddit (via Ghacks) who discovered the bug, and the many replies that angrily confirmed it.
We were able to confirm the findings for ourselves, in addition, even if you disable Activity History through the Group Policy editor, it does not change the collecting and display of data either.
You can see for yourself by going to:
- Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > System > OS Policies.
- Disable "Allow publishing of User Activities.
- Disable "Enables Activity Feed".
- Disable "Allow upload of User Activities"
The changes have no effect on the collecting and display of activity data on the Privacy Dashboard website under Activity History.
Concerns over Microsoft's telemetry data collection methods remain an issue that privacy watchdogs and governments still feel haven't been alleviated, and this also goes to show that there is still a lot of work to be done to respect users' preferences in regard to data collection and just how far companies can go before the authorities step in.
Update: Microsoft has commented on the issue, acknowledging that it might be confusing that Activity History in the Privacy Dashboard and on Windows 10 have the same name. The company said that the Privacy Dashboard includes activity from all Microsoft devices, apps, and services.