How to reduce Microsoft’s spying on your Office use

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There’s a hidden registry hack which can reduce the amount of information Office apps send to Microsoft.

Dr Aleksandar Milenkoski, working for the German Federal Office for Information Security, has produced a report on what information Microsoft Office software sends back to the company.

That’s information about when and how Office apps are used.  It applies to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and the other Windows programs.

An English version of the report is available from the German government.

Whenever you’re running Office or Windows, it’s sending information about how you use the software to Microsoft.  Microsoft says this is for diagnostic and development purposes only but we only have their word for that.  As noted before, any information collected by US companies may be shared with the government.

You say Telemetry, I say Telemetry

Microsoft uses the term ‘Telemetry’ in two different ways.

Microsoft Telemetry is the broad reporting of Windows and Office use data back to the company.  It’s what’s covered in the German Report.

Microsoft Telemetry Dashboard is a different animal. It’s an in-house tool for organizations to monitor Office use within an organization.  Though it’s worth noting that the Telemetry Dashboard has obfuscation options (to hide document names etc) that aren’t available for data sent to Microsoft.

Two types of info sent to Microsoft

It’s a common misconception that info is only sent for the ‘Connected Experiences’ like Icons, Stock and Geographical data and other cloud services. 

Normal, non-cloud, use of Office can and is reported to Microsoft.  It’s not limited to software errors or ‘crashes’.  Just starting an Office app or clicking ‘Save’ can be notified to Redmond.

There are also compulsory Connected Experiences (most obviously Licencing/Activation).

Quoting from the report:

“Both Office applications and connected experiences produce diagnostic events that may be sent to Microsoft. …

Office produces a specific diagnostic event when it performs a given activity, which may be triggered by users. Such activities include, for example, launching the Office application or saving a document.”

There’s a lot going on with Microsoft Telemetry.  Different systems and sub-systems within Office and Windows. There’s no single on/off switch.  We’re working through Dr Milenkowsi’s report but for the moment let’s look at one way to reduce Microsoft’s snooping on you.

Disable Office Telemetry

The main privacy setting is an undocumented and unsupported registry setting.

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HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Policies\Microsoft\office\common\clienttelemetry\

This setting does not affect how the Office programs operate and don’t impact on the Connected Experiences (Icons, Stock Images, Designer etc.). It applies

In Registry Editor go to:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Policies\Microsoft\office\common\clienttelemetry\

If not present (probable) add a new DWORD value called:

DisableTelemetry

Set the value to 1

that disables the two Office Telemetry modules and reduces the amount of info sent to Microsoft.

Reduces, not stop data flow.  That’s because the DisableTelemetry only works for two reporting systems within Office. 

Some other reporting is done via the Windows Telemetry system.

The registry setting isn’t documented which means Microsoft could change their software to ignore or reinterpret the setting.

What about Office for Mac?

Dr Milenkowsi’s report only looks at Office for Windows. 

It’s probable that there’s a similar system for Mac computers but it would have to be very different on the MacOS.

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