Okay. So anyone who was smugly resisting the move to Windows 10 in the belief that 7 and 8 were going to keep them happy has been disabused of that this week. PCWorld writes: “Microsoft slips user-tracking tools into Windows 7 and 8 amidst Windows 10 privacy storm.” Ars Technica, their headline: “Microsoft accused of adding spy features to Windows 7 and 8.” ExtremeTech: “Microsoft backports privacy-invading Windows 10 features to Windows 7 and 8.”
And ExtremeTech was great. They said: “Every time Microsoft releases a new version of an operating system, there’s always a few users bitterly unhappy at the company’s decision not to support new features on older products. Microsoft has finally listened to these diehard devotees of older operating systems. If you felt like Windows 7 and Windows 8 offered you a little too much privacy, rejoice: Microsoft is updating those operating systems with the same telemetry-gathering software it deployed on Windows 10. What? You wanted DirectX 12?”
The good news, you can turn “most” of it off in Windows 10. However, in Windows 7&8, you’ll need to avoid installing these updates:
- 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.
Don’t forget to look into the optional updates and hide KB3075249 and KB3080149 as well.