Windows 10 Sends Your Activity History to Microsoft, Even if You Tell It Not To

Windows 10 collects an “Activity History” of applications you launch on your PC and sends it to Microsoft. Even if you disable or clear this, Microsoft’s Privacy Dashboard still shows an “Activity History” of applications you’ve launched on your PCs.

Update: Microsoft’s Marisa Rogers reached out to us with the following statement:

“Microsoft is committed to customer privacy, being transparent about the data we collect and use for your benefit, and we give you controls to manage your data. In this case, the same term “Activity History” is used in both Windows 10 and the Microsoft Privacy Dashboard. Windows 10 Activity History data is only a subset of the data displayed in the Microsoft Privacy Dashboard. We are working to address this naming issue in a future update.”

In addition to simply disabling the “Send my activity history to Microsoft” option, Microsoft told us you must set your diagnostic data level to “Basic.” This will prevent Windows 10 from sending app usage history to Microsoft.

This problem was recently discussed on Reddit, and it’s pretty easy to confirm. Head to Settings > Privacy > Activity History and disable “Send my activity history to Microsoft.” It was already disabled on our PC, so it made this easy to test.

For bonus points, you can also click the “Clear” button under Clear Activity History. This should, theoretically, clear all that data from Microsoft’s servers. But, apparently, it doesn’t.

Finally, click the “Privacy Dashboard” link on the Activity History settings page.

This takes you to Microsoft’s Privacy Dashboard page in your web browser. Click the “Activity History” link at the top of the page to see the Activity History associated with your Microsoft account.

You’ll see a list of applications you’ve launched on your connected PCs, even if you’ve disabled or cleared your Activity History on those PCs.

This is pretty strange and confusing, but we think there’s a simple explanation: Microsoft also collects a history of applications you launch through Windows 10’s diagnostics. We think the “Activity History” page in the Privacy Dashboard has an incorrect name. It’s not part of the Windows 10 “Activity History” feature, which is associated with the Timeline.

Windows 10’s default diagnostic setting, “Full,” says it sends “info about websites you browse and how you use apps and features,” so this data may just be sent to Microsoft through Windows 10’s normal telemetry. You can find these options at Settings > Privacy > Diagnostics & Feedback.

Update: Microsoft has confirmed this, telling us you’ll need to set this option to “Basic” to stop Windows from sending your app usage history to Microsoft.

This whole confusing mess highlights how Microsoft has failed to explain exactly what data Windows 10 collects and how you can control it.

The Privacy Dashboard was designed to make this more transparent, but even the dashboard is confusing and uses incorrect names that don’t match the associated features in Windows 10. Microsoft still has a lot of work to do here.

Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor in Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for nearly a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than 500 million times---and that's just here at How-To Geek. Read Full Bio »