New Microsoft Spyware On Windows 7 and 8?

Category: Privacy

Microsoft introduced new Data Collection and Telemetry features in Windows 10 that raised privacy concerns and tarnished the new OS’ rollout. Some users reacted by deciding to stick with Windows 7 or 8.1. But now Microsoft has pushed out four updates to those older versions that are accused of adding Win 10’s “spying” capabilities to those versions as well. Here's the scoop…

Is Microsoft Forcing Windows 10 Spyware on You?

As is often the case, the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) is overblown. The suspect Windows 7 and 8.1 patches -- KB3022345, KB3068708, KB3075249, and KB3080149 – are not new spyware. They did not originate in Windows 10, but in a program that’s been part of Windows since 2001. They are not forced upon users, and they are very easily disabled.

These four updates are part of the Windows Customer Experience Improvement Program (CEIP), which first appeared in Windows XP and has since been added to Office, Windows Media Player, and other Microsoft software. Here’s what it does:

If you have ever called a geek friend for help when Windows crashed, the first question he probably asked was, “What were you doing when the system crashed?” CEIP answers that question and the answer is a great help in debugging what went wrong. However, a user’s memory is a tricky thing.

Microsoft Data Collection and Telemetry

“Well, I don’t recall, exactly. I was browsing a Web site and saving a file to a USB drive.” But you may not mention that you unplugged the USB drive during the save operation, because that would be an embarrassing mistake to admit. You might also forget that you had ten programs open at the time and not even be aware that your CPU usage was maxed out at 100%.

But CEIP notes the exact, complete state of your system. It also notes any error messages generated by the system. It automatically transmits this critical debugging data to Microsoft, sparing you and your geek friend countless hours of trying to reproduce the error.

What Else is Transmitted?

Windows Update has three types of patches: Important, Recommended and Optional. KB3022345 and KB3068708 were designated Optional, which means they should not be present on your computer unless you open Windows Update and manually select them for installation. The other two updates, KB3075249 and KB3080149, were designated as Recommended. If the "Include recommended updates" box is checked in your Windows Update settings, these patches will appear on your system.

There's no need to panic or remove them, if they are present. See below for instructions on how to change your Customer Experience Improvement Program settings.

The data that CEIP transmits to Microsoft may include playlists of songs, URLs browsed, even snapshots of RAM memory contents that may incidentally include parts of a document you were reading or editing. There's nothing nefarious about this. A memory dump reflects the state of your computer, which includes open programs, the data in use by those programs, and whatever is on your screen.

Microsoft states that CEIP reports "do not contain contact information, such as your name, address, or telephone number. This means CEIP will not ask you to participate in surveys or to read junk email, and you will not be contacted in any other way."

Participation in CEIP is enabled by default when you install Microsoft software that supports it, but you can opt out during installation or disable it at any later time. If you chose “express install” during installation then CEIP was enabled. If you chose “custom installation” you had the option to participate in CEIP or not.

Should you participate in the Customer Experience Improvement Program on your Windows 7 or Windows 8 computer? Yes, if you want Microsoft to be aware of bugs in Windows and fix them. No, if you don’t want Microsoft to know anything at all about your personal computer.

How to Disable Customer Experience Improvement Program (CEIP)

Windows 10 users have little choice; CEIP (renamed “Feedback and diagnostics”) is enabled and can’t be turned off completely without some dangerous registry editing. But here is how to turn off CEIP in Windows 7 and 8.1:

  • In Win 7, type “experience” in the Start menu search box; in Win 8.1, type “experience” on the Start screen.
  • Click on “Change Customer Experience Improvement Program Settings.”
  • In the resulting dialog box, check "No, I don't want to participate in the program," then click Save Changes.

To turn off CEIP in Microsoft Office 2010 or later:

  • Start any Office program.
  • Navigate through File > Options > Trust Center
  • Click the button labeled “Trust Center Settings”
  • Click on the sidebar item, “Privacy Options”
  • Uncheck the box, “Sign up for the Customer Experience Improvement Program”
  • Click “OK” at the bottom of the Privacy Options page, and again on the Trust Center Settings page.

CEIP is now disabled for all Office programs. If you’re using Windows Media Player, switch to VLC Media Player, which doesn’t collect any data from users. Other Microsoft software will have CEIP options buried somewhere in their settings. I can’t cover them all here.

In summary, there is potential for privacy shenanigans in CEIP, but I don’t consider it a threat worth worrying about. CEIP has been part of Windows since 2001, and there haven’t been any examples of skullduggery. On the other hand, the benefits of automated and accurate bug reporting to everyone who uses Windows are obvious and considerable; so much so, that Microsoft is now making it mandatory in Windows 10.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
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This article was posted by on 11 Sep 2015


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Most recent comments on "New Microsoft Spyware On Windows 7 and 8?"

(See all 28 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

John Silberman
11 Sep 2015

Just another reason I am glad I switched to Ubuntu.


Posted by:

Mike
11 Sep 2015

Another example of Big Broth.... er, I mean, Microsoft knows best. Whether the information sent in has ever been abused, or not, is irrelevant. I've never been a fan of being automatically opted in, for some action. Why can't Microsoft simply allow the user to choose to send information, when a crash occurs? A popup with a message stating that a crash has occurred in 'whatever app', and asking if the user would like to help prevent future problems by providing crash information, with yes and no buttons is the logical solution. With such a large number of users, enough information should be provided by those, who choose to send info, to fix the problem. Why force users to send information, even if they'd prefer not to?


Posted by:

tonygad
11 Sep 2015

Bob

Been using the excellent VLC media player for more years than I can recall.

As for CIEP I find it a useful but not often used tool and I'm indifferent to Microsoft and their clandestine partners knowing how many times I go to the bathroom or have a cup of coffee :)


Posted by:

polly
11 Sep 2015

I couldn't find the link to turn off CEIP in Office 365. ???


Posted by:

Warren Ngo
11 Sep 2015

Hi Bob,

A German developer, Jonas Zimmerman has developed a free anti-CEIP program for Windows 10 called Donot spy10. The catch is the program comes bundled with crapware OpenCandy.


Posted by:

GuitarRebel
11 Sep 2015

"The data that CEIP transmits to Microsoft may include playlists of songs, URLs browsed, even snapshots of RAM memory contents that may incidentally include parts of a document you were reading or editing. There's nothing nefarious about this."
I respectfully disagree.


Posted by:

John
11 Sep 2015

Good article as they usually are. I have Win 7 Pro OEM. I am sure I have not disabled this feature. But I do wish it worked! Because every time I clear this error and Microsoft updates and reboots my PC overnight I get this error once again. So they must not pay attention and fix the updating issues! Error msg= "There was a problem that caused part of Windows live id sign-in Assistant to be disabled. and so on, ending with please go to: http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?Linkid=144689
Go to that link and you can read ALL KINDS OF GUESSES ON HOW TO RESOLVE! Not a very straight forward solution form ole MS!


Posted by:

Ross
11 Sep 2015

Thanks for another great article, Bob. I've just turned CEIP "ON" for my Win 7 PC. :o)
As someone who helped the end-user for many years, I know how important it is to have as much information as possible about what was going on when they ran into trouble, so I know that data collection and/or data dumps are a great tool for diagnostics.


Posted by:

John
11 Sep 2015

I must be one of those geeks you mentioned in your article, Bob. I've sent along information to Microsoft for years. :-)

I too am a fan of VLC. It's a great video player without the annoyances of Windows Media Player.


Posted by:

polly
12 Sep 2015

I couldn't find the link to turn off CEIP in Office 365. ???


Posted by:

Digital Arteeste
12 Sep 2015

Interesting, but not as interesting as the really interesting picture of the robot with three eyes walking over a page of 0s and 1s. Where do you get your always neat graphics?


Posted by:

P
12 Sep 2015

If you clear your contents, empty cache, history, cookies, etc., would this still be an issue?


Posted by:

PMWill
12 Sep 2015

So far I am impressed with knowledge I am gaining from the news letters. I also will consider the backup system later on even though I will miss out on this event.
Thanks,
PMW


Posted by:

Carole
12 Sep 2015

You provided me with one more reason why I wouldn't care to upgrade to Windows 10. Thanks for the heads up on what Microsoft is doing. They are certainly nosy.


Posted by:

Narada
12 Sep 2015

Why should the generic improvement of customer experience require the undisableable transmission of identifiable information in Win 10? Not just system state, but particular system identifiers. Stating that the motive is benign is to avoid the central issue, that centralization of information will always be used by governments and corporations (being extensions of egos), as means for power, control, and gain. Make no mistake, the primary reason for the existence of the Cloud is NOT for your convenience.


Posted by:

Steven Horn
13 Sep 2015

Bob, does it really matter? I think Microsoft knows so much about me after my usage of its operating systems and programs since 1989 that its acquisition of a bit more will not make a great deal of difference.


Posted by:

Byron M
13 Sep 2015

when MS does an update many of the features which were disabled or turned off are enabled and turned on again. The past month I have been getting almost daily updates from MS on all computers; Vista, Win 8.1. I have installed Win 10 on my Win 7 Laptop. I did a complete new install. Had to. I had the hard drive partitioned to run Linux Ubuntu. Once I installed Win10 update and restarted the computer. It crashed. So, had to do reformat the hard drive, reinstall Win7 and then update to Win10. Took most of two days to complete. Win10 has slowed the computer's response time and the updates are almost every day. So far most of my software and programs work. The Win10 program is similar to 8.1 aside from the start menu. Took a while to study how it worked and how to tweak it to suit me. I liked Win7 but I know the end is coming so might as well get onboard with Win10 and get used to it :) Keeping Win8.1 on my wife's laptop until I figure out and find out how Win10 is going to work over time.


Posted by:

Ralph C
15 Sep 2015

Thanks for the great article Bob. I will be turning it off. Another reason to turn it off is; not everyone has unlimited internet, as I pay by the MB, so I do not want to transmit any data to MS that evidently serves no real purpose, because I have to pay for that transmission. I will not upgrade my Win 8.1 to 10 for the same reason, forced updates to software I don't use such as Outlook in MS Office.


Posted by:

Ken Heikkila
20 Sep 2015

I struggle to make sense of all the paranoid people who read this extremely informative newsletter. It seems simple to me. I want my OS to be the best that it can be and a simple way to do that is to allow MS to collect this info. It also helps anyone trying to diagnose a problem on my computer. I suppose there are people out there who have cause to worry about what is gleaned from their hard drive, but I am not one.


Posted by:

Ivan White
25 Sep 2015

I use this, it helps a great deal, it may not stop them, but it does shut things down you do not need like telemetry and other snoopery etc.

http://www.oo-software.com/en/shutup10


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