Apr 6, 2016

Windows 10’s “App Connector” Has Access to Your Private Data

 
Windows 10 includes a mysterious app named “App Connector” that has access to your location, camera, contacts, and calendars. This app was created by Microsoft, but Microsoft hasn’t officially explained what it does.




I first asked about App Connector back in July 2015, during the Windows 10 Insider Preview, but Microsoft still still hasn’t explained it and no one seems to have an official answer. App Connector is a confusing app, as it doesn’t seem to do anything important. 

 

It Has Access to Your Private Data

App Connector isn’t an “app” in the most traditional sense. It doesn’t show up in your Start menu, even if you search for it. Instead, you’ll find it in Windows 10’s Settings, as one of many apps with permissions to view your location, camera, and more.

To view and manage these permissions, open the Settings app and select “Privacy.” You’ll see “App Connector” on the Location, Camera, Contacts, and Calendar permissions screens. App Connector also has access to your pictures library, video library, and removable storage devices.


The app itself is stored in the hidden C:\Users\YOURNAME\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.Appconnector_SOMETHING folder on your hard drive, along with all the other universal apps installed for your user account on Windows 10.


App Connector and Its Permissions Don’t Seem to Matter

Confusingly, although these permissions are enabled by default, they don’t seem to really do anything (at least that we can find). We’ve disabled access to every single permission App Connector wants, and nothing appears to work differently. No error messages, no missing features that we typically use, nothing. That’s been my experience, and I haven’t seen anyone else report anything different.

Even more confusingly, you can actually uninstall this app from your Windows 10 system. Head to Settings > Systems > Apps & features and you’ll be able to uninstall it.


Many of Windows 10’s included apps–including the Xbox app–can’t be uninstalled normally; you need to use PowerShell commands if you want to get rid of them. Microsoft prevents people from uninstalling these apps because they’re necessary to the operating system. But Microsoft allows you to uninstall App Connector, which seems to support the idea that it doesn’t do anything super important. If uninstalling this app caused problems with Windows 10, Microsoft wouldn’t let you do it so easily.

 

Microsoft Azure and Office 365 Have Connectors, Too

Microsoft hasn’t provided any information about this. So, with no other information to go on, let’s start looking at some theories. There are a number of interesting answers to this question by people with more knowledge of Microsoft’s services here, although none are official Microsoft answers. Aeriform on the Microsoft Community forum digs down into the app’s files a bit and provides what looks like the best theory so far:

App Connector seems to be related to MS Azure App Services like OneDrive and possibly Office 365 connectors like https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dn948518.aspx that might optionally need to take pictures or know what country you’re in as some services might have restrictions or optimizations by location for services they can provide.

Microsoft’s services have different types of “connectors.” Azure, Microsoft’s cloud server service, has connectors. As Azure’s documentation explains: “A Connector is a type of API App that focuses on connectivity. . . Connectors make it easy to connect to existing services and help manage authentication, provide monitoring, analytics, and more.” App Connector could potentially be related to OneDrive, your Microsoft account, or other cloud services in Windows 10. There are also Office 365 Connectors used by Microsoft Office.

But this explanation is confusing. If apps really can plug into this “App Connector”–and it’s unclear how they would, as there doesn’t appear to be any Microsoft documentation explaining how–they’d be able to have App Connector’s permissions and wouldn’t have to ask for their own permissions. This may include only 

Microsoft’s own apps, or it may include third-party apps. It seems bizarre that third-party apps would be allowed to bypass the normal system permissions in this way, rather than asking for their own permissions. And if low-level Windows system services need App Connector, it doesn’t make sense that you’d be able to simply uninstall it. So something still doesn’t add up.


What Is App Connector? It Doesn’t Seem to Matter

Unfortunately, we don’t have an answer to this question right now. Microsoft has offered no explanation, and our observations tell us very little. On the one hand, it’s important enough to be included with Windows 10 and have its permissions activated by default. On the other hand, it’s unimportant enough that you can revoke these permissions and uninstall it without any noticeable effects.

It seems to be some sort of connector for apps according to the name–but there’s no information for developers on how apps can connect to this connector or why they would. Maybe this app will be explained in the future, or maybe Microsoft will just remove it from a future Windows 10 update. Perhaps it’s an incomplete part of Windows 10 and doesn’t really do anything yet.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really seem to matter what App Connector is. You can revoke its permissions from the Settings screen to prevent it from doing anything at all. If an app ever actually needs these permissions, it will probably pop up and tell you, asking you to re-enable these permissions. But we’ve never seen it do this before, even after using different Windows 10 apps.



Despite first starting to look for an explanation about this back in July, 2015, I still haven’t found a solid answer to this question. The web is littered with people asking this question and replying with vague theories. Once again, Microsoft has failed to explain this, just as they won’t explain other things–like under what circumstances Windows 10 deletes programs during upgrades.

So don’t worry about it too much. You’re free to revoke the permissions, or even uninstall the app, so go ahead if you want to. You could also simply leave it alone, as it doesn’t seem like it’s doing much anyway.

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