Is Windows 11 spying on you? New report details eye-opening levels of telemetry

Windows 11 running on a laptop
(Image credit: Microsoft)

Windows 11 sends out an eye-opening amount of data to a load of various servers right off the bat, a new report has made clear.

Neowin spotted that The PC Security Channel uploaded a YouTube video showing an experiment where they took a brand new Windows 11 laptop booting up for the first time, and monitored what data it was sending online using the Wireshark network analysis tool.

For comparison, a Windows XP system was similarly monitored, with the YouTube channel noting this felt like an interesting choice just to see what has changed over the years in terms of telemetry and Microsoft’s monitoring of the user’s PC.

It turns out things are very different these days – to no one’s surprise, really – and even before you connect to the internet, or open an app, or do anything, Windows 11 is piping data here and there, to both Microsoft and third-party servers.

What kind of third-party servers? The PC Security Channel picks through a bunch which are related to adverts and marketing, essentially, and software (like antivirus for example, possibly relating to a trial version installed on the laptop). This happens with telemetry settings at the minimum available, by the way, so it’s the baseline activity for Windows 11 users.

Okay, so what about Windows XP, which was released just over 20 year ago now: does that have similar multiple tendrils snaking out to Microsoft services and third-party servers? Nope, it doesn’t; in fact, the only connections Windows XP makes is to Microsoft’s download servers to check for updates to the OS, and that’s it.

Analysis: The telling tendrils of telemetry…

There’s a stark difference in terms of telemetry, then, from just after the turn of the millennium to now. We’ve gone from very little data being sent anywhere – just crucial stuff relating to updates – to all manner of data flying here and there, whether it’s related to Bing, MSN, Google, ad networks, and so forth.

Although as we already noted, this is hardly a surprise. To be fair to Microsoft, a contemporary OS like Windows 11 (or Windows 10, as they’re still mostly the same thing under the hood) offers a great deal more functionality than XP ever did, of course. And to power all those extra bits and pieces like news and weather details (which turned into the widget panel in Windows 11), location services, and the 101 other things Microsoft has bundled into its desktop OS, there’s obviously going to be a lot more network activity.

Even so, the extent of the traffic shown in the YouTube video will do little to comfort those who have been paranoid about Microsoft’s activities around data and telemetry since Windows 10 emerged, and there was a long-standing fuss centred on how the software giant treated the privacy of users and their data.

Remember, Windows is an operating system that end users pay for (even if it comes preinstalled on a PC, it’ll represent a bit of the hardware’s price tag), and so it should be working for us; not constantly searching for every single available extra avenue of monetization (which is something you’d expect from a free product, not a paid one).

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).