New Microsoft Spyware On Windows 7 and 8?
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.
“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?
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...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 11 Sep 2015
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- New Microsoft Spyware On Windows 7 and 8? (Posted: 11 Sep 2015)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved