Relax, NVIDIA’s Telemetry Didn’t Just Start Spying on You

November 8, 2016

Gamers are accusing NVIDIA’s new drivers of spying on you, collecting more data with new telemetry services. But NVIDIA isn’t spying on you—or, at least, NVIDIA isn’t gathering more data than it already was, and most of that data is required for it to work properly.

Those New Telemetry Processes Do Nothing (at the Moment)

This whole subject started to take on a life of its own when people noticed the latest NVIDIA drivers add an “NVIDIA telemetry monitor”, or NvTmMon.exe, entry to the Task Scheduler. MajorGeeks even recommended disabling these tasks with the Microsoft Autoruns software.

While many websites uncritically recommended disabling these processes, Gamers Nexus monitored these processes and found that “they appear to be inactive at this time and do not transact data, as far as we can tell.”

In other words, those telemetry-named processes do nothing. Disabling them accomplishes nothing. It’s possible that NVIDIA is working on moving telemetry-related functions from the main GeForce Experience program to these processes, but that hasn’t happened yet.

A future driver update that makes these processes functional will also probably re-enable them in the Task Scheduler. There’s no point in disabling them right now “just in case”.

People Are Reading the Wrong Privacy Policy

People on Reddit found the Privacy Policy on NVIDIA’s website and summarized it as such: “NVIDIA may collect your name, address, email, phone number, IP address, and non traditional identifiers and share this information with business partners, resellers, affiliates, service providers, consulting partners, and others. This information is combined with typical browsing and cookie data and used by NVIDIA itself or advertising networks.”

That sounds bad. But that’s actually a summary of the privacy policy for your use of NVIDIA’s website. As Gamers Nexus wrote, there’s a separate policy that covers GeForce Experience and NVIDIA’s software.

NVIDIA issued an official statement that said: “NVIDIA does not share any personally identifiable information collected by GeForce Experience outside the company. NVIDIA may share aggregate-level data with select partners, but does not share user-level data… Aggregate data refers to information about a group of users rather than an individual. For example, there are now 80 million users of GeForce Experience.”

GeForce Experience Needs to Collect Data to Function

RELATED: How to Set Your PC Games’ Graphics Settings with No Effort

The GeForce Experience application, by its very nature, needs to collect some data from you. Here’s what the GeForce Experience application, included with NVIDIA’s drivers, does:

  • It checks for new drivers and downloads them for you. To do this, it has to check which operating system you’re using, which NVIDIA hardware you have installed, and which driver version you currently have installed.
  • It scans your system for installed games and suggests optimal settings. To do this, it needs to know which games you have installed, how they’re currently configured, and what hardware you have in your PC.
  • It also reports back basic information about how you use the application. For example, NVIDIA can probably tell how many people use the GeForce Experience application to optimize games, how many people use the gameplay-recording feature, and so on.

NVIDIA says it hasn’t started collecting any new data recently, writing in a statement: “The nature of the information collected has remained consistent since the introduction of GeForce Experience 1.0. The change with GeForce Experience 3.0 is that this error reporting and data collection is now being done in real-time.”

You Can Monitor the Data GeForce Experience Sends

If you’d like to see every bit of data GeForce Experience sends, you can do so with Wireshark. Gamers Nexus monitored the data NVIDIA’s applications sent over the wire and found about what you’d expect. It sends:

  • Your GPU’s specification, vendor, clock speed, and overclock information.
  • Your monitor information and display resolution.
  • Driver settings for some specific games, such as whether you’ve disabled G-Sync or chosen a type of antialiasing for a game in the NVIDIA Control Panel.
  • The resolution and quality settings you’ve chosen for some specific games.
  • A list of games and applications installed, so NVIDIA can see how many people have Origin, Steam, Counter-Strike: GO, Overwatch, and other games installed.
  • How much RAM you have.
  • Information about your CPU, motherboard, and BIOS version.

This is the type of data we’d expect to see, given what GeForce Experience does. NVIDIA can use much of this data to suggest optimal settings for your hardware.

Data about which games you have installed and how you’ve configured them can help NVIDIA know which games to focus development resources on, and point it in the right direction when automatically choosing graphics settings. These are good things, and what GeForce Expeirence has always been designed to do anyway.

To Disable Telemetry, You’d Have to Break GeForce Experience

You’re free to disable those telemetry services, but that won’t do anything for the time being. To truly stop NVIDIA’s software from phoning home, you’d have to break GeForce Experience by blocking its connections at the firewall level.

But if you do this, GeForce Experience won’t automatically check for and provide you with graphics driver updates anymore. The game-optimization features would stop working. Other Internet-connected features would also break.

In fact, if you block connections from GeForce Experience and it can’t connect to NVIDIA’s servers, it just kicks you back top a sign-in screen saying “We are unable to log you in at this time. Try again later.”

This is a bad idea. Those graphics driver updates are important!

The Mandatory Account Still Stings

We’ve looked into it and found NVIDIA’s telemetry is really nothing to worry about. GeForce Experience collects as much data as it always does, and the data it collects makes sense for what it has to do. The new telemetry processes don’t seem to actually do anything.

But NVIDIA has gamers on edge with its recent decisions. GeForce Experience version 3.0 requires you sign in with an account to use it—even just to get driver updates—which makes many gamers unhappy. However, you can just create an NVIDIA account for this purpose. You don’t have to link a Google or Facebook account.

While we wish NVIDIA would offer more options, let’s keep our complaints tethered to the real world. Many of the claims going around online about NVIDIA’s new telemetry services just aren’t true.

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