Why you shouldn't call a Windows tech support scam
This spring, when Microsoft releases the next major update to Windows 10, privacy advocates may finally get the tools they've been pushing for since the launch of the operating system nearly three years ago.
The clues are hidden in plain sight in the latest Windows 10 preview builds. Builds 17063 and 17074, released to the Fast Ring of the Windows Insider Program in late December and January, respectively, include two mysterious commands on the Privacy tab in Settings.
Both commands are simply placeholders in current builds, but the names appear to give away their function. One is a Diagnostic data viewer, apparently intended to offer greater transparency over so-called telemetry data collection. The other offers the ability to delete diagnostic data.
In addition to those not-yet-active commands, the new preview releases include one new capability that is operative. The Speech, Inking, & Typing tab under Settings > Privacy now includes a View User Dictionary command that displays a list of saved data. On a test system, this list included mostly proper names, in keeping with Microsoft's disclosure that it logs input to improve the accuracy of auto-recognition features.
When Microsoft released Windows 10 in 2015, critics accused it of "spying" on customers with its extensive diagnostics capabilities, better known as telemetry data. In early 2017, with the release of Windows 10 version 1703, the company published a comprehensive list detailing exactly what type of data it collects.
Microsoft also agreed with European privacy agencies last year to implement measures that would "stop collecting excessive data and tracking browsing by users without their consent." It's possible that some of the forthcoming changes are tied to the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that takes full effect later this year.
Some other subtle changes in build 17074 are worth noting. In current releases of Windows 10, the Feedback & diagnostics section is buried at the bottom of a long list. In the latest Insider preview builds, that category's name changes to Diagnostics & feedback, and it moves to a much more prominent position at the top of the list.
I've reached out to Microsoft with a request to comment on these changes.