How to protect your privacy in Windows 10
If you value your private life, this guide gives you important tips to help you keep and safeguard your privacy in Windows 10 and over the Internet.
If you value your private life greatly, Windows 10 could easily become a nightmare for you. Even back when Windows 10 was first launched, some of its new features sparked a lot of criticism and rage regarding personal and privacy policies.
For a really in-depth look, you can read the Privacy Statement policies as well as the Services Agreement on Microsoft’s official website, however, in our article, we will focus on the main steps you can take to ensure that Windows 10 is not collecting personal data from you without your knowledge.
“Microsoft collects data from you, through our interactions with you and through our products. You provide some of this data directly, and we get some of it by collecting data about your interactions, use and experiences with our products.” - states the Microsoft Privacy Statement, - “We share your personal data with your consent or to complete any transaction or provide any product you have requested or authorised.
We also share data with Microsoft-controlled affiliates and subsidiaries; with vendors working on our behalf; when required by law or to respond to legal process; etc.”
In this article, you can learn about how Microsoft collects data about you, as well as how to disable these features while also being able to continue using Windows 10 without any trouble. If you ever feel like altering these settings impacted your system negatively, you can always revert the changes any time as well.
After learning all of this, you might start to panic and look for a different operating system to use, however, there is no need for that, as Microsoft provides ways to decline the collection of your data if you feel like you want to opt-out from basically giving information to Microsoft for free even after buying their operating system yourself.
Microsoft can collect more data than you think
In addition to what was already mentioned above, you might consider looking at the list of things Microsoft can collect about you when you install Windows 10 onto your device and sign the agreement. You basically give Microsoft the permission to collect:
Your identity: Your first and last name, email address, postal address, phone number, and any other similar contact data.
Passwords: Your passwords, password hints, and similar information are used for access and authentication.
Demographics: Information about you such as your age, gender, the country you live in, and even the languages you use.
Interests and habits: Data related to your interests and the way you use certain applications, for example, the sports teams you check scores for frequently or the stocks you track in the finance app.
Credit Card Information: Your credit card information is necessary to process your payments if you make purchases and will be stored.
Usage data: Your interactions with various services such as features you use within an application, things you buy, websites you visit and search terms you use.
Location: Data about your location.
And the list does not stop there...
Data sync is enabled by default
The syncing of your private data and application/software settings is automatically enabled by Microsoft and will be synced with the Microsoft servers by default.
This means that your data, including browsing history, the websites you currently have open in your browser, application settings, software settings, your saved passwords, and even WiFi hotspot names are all synced with these servers.
You might have already run into this setting in Google Chrome, but luckily you can disable it.
Click on the Windows logo located in the bottom-left of your screen and choose the gear icon, which will take you to the Settings menu.
Here, click on Accounts to see the current Microsoft account you are logged into and using on your device. On the left side of the screen, select the option that says “Sync your settings” from the menu.
Here, you can choose what you want to be synced and what you would like to remain only on one computer, and you can even turn off syncing entirely.
Advertisements are extremely common on the internet, as it is one of the easiest ways of earning money which often pays for a website’s costs, or helps the team behind the website to improve it in one way or another.
This in and of itself should not be much of a problem, as you are not forced to interact with these advertisements, and from time to time might even see something that catches your eye and interest, however, there is an option that tries to make the likelihood of this higher basically by spying on you and your activity on the internet.
By default, every single device that uses Windows 10 is given a unique advertisement ID that basically allows companies to see the unique data collected from you and personalize the advertisements you would most likely click on, baiting you to earn money off of your clicks.
This is possible via cookies, which are required to be enabled on most websites.
Cookies are used to identify a user and prepare customized web pages, save your site login information and so the advertisements that appear on a website should already be targeted to the website’s general audience.
To disable applications from using this advertising ID Microsoft forces onto you and your device, you can turn it off by navigating to the Settings menu (gear icon) from the Windows icon in your taskbar, choosing Privacy and General.
Under Change privacy options, you can see the following line: “Let apps use advertising ID to make ads more interesting to you based on your app activity (turning this off will reset your ID.)” If it’s turned on, you can click on the button under it to disable it once and for all.
Furthermore, you can go to this website to turn off certain advertisement-related settings as well, such as “See personalised ads in your browser” or “Personalised ads wherever I use my Microsoft account.”
If you have an ad blocker extension or application installed on your device, you might need to turn it off when accessing this website to see the option for opting out of personalized browser advertisements.
This is because the website has to set a cookie for your user to memorize that the setting was turned off, and keep it off as well.
You might have heard about OneDrive before, but in case you have no clue what it is, it is Microsoft’s service that allows you to store information and data in cloud-based storage servers.
This can prove more than useful if you are using multiple devices, or plan to get a new one anytime in the foreseeable future, but if you don’t want anything to do with it, you probably should turn it off because the constant warnings and configuration notifications can become annoying really quickly.
You should see an upward-facing arrow in the system tray, which is located on the right side of your taskbar at the bottom of the screen.
If OneDrive is running, you will see the OneDrive logo, which looks something like two blue clouds. Simply right-click on the OneDrive icon and select Settings from the menu.
This should open up the Microsoft OneDrive window, where you can configure the service or turn it off entirely. Under General, you should see the option "Start OneDrive automatically when I sign in to Windows" and if it has the box next to it ticked, you can simply click on it again to remove the tick.
You should consider turning the other options off as well, namely “Let me use OneDrive to fetch any of my files on this PC,” and “Use Office to work on files with other people at the same time.”
Almost every operating system has some sort of a virtual assistant, such as Apple’s Siri or Google’s Alexa.
With Windows 10, the new virtual assistant named Cortana was introduced as well. It is used for a variety of different things, such as quickly creating and setting up calendar events, reminders, sending emails, and many other trivial tasks.
Luckily, if reading all this made you turn your nose up because you absolutely did not like what you just saw, you can easily turn off Cortana and never have to use it, as the search bar still remains entirely usable even if you decide to turn Cortana off.
However, even if you enjoy Cortana or want to start using it, you might want to consider getting rid of it or not starting it at all if you value your privacy.
It collects information about you similarly to Google Now, and is capable of sending character information to Bing to improve search suggestions - this cannot be deleted either.
According to the Microsoft Privacy Statement, you're already typed in characters and searches will still continue to be collected and used. The only way to not send any data to Bing is by not using Cortana at all. F
Furthermore, Cortana is capable of collecting many more types of data about you, such as the music you listen to, data from your emails or SMS messages, your address book and call list, mic input, contacts and relationships, things you view or purchase, your browser history and much more.
Microsoft says that all of this is necessary to make Cortana perform well, however, it should be talked about more frequently that Cortana stores an absurd amount of personal information about you, oftentimes without your knowledge.
Let us be real, if Cortana was advertised in a completely honest way, including the mention of how much it knows about you, it probably would not be used so widely.
To turn Cortana off, simply click on the Cortana icon in your taskbar to open its panel. On the left side of the panel, you can find a notebook icon, and by clicking on that you can select Settings from the list that appears.
The very first option should read “Cortana can give you suggestions, ideas, reminders, alerts, and more” and you can simply turn it off to entirely remove Cortana from the picture.
If you successfully turn Cortana off, a whole new set of privacy problems appear in the form of Bing.
As noted in the previous section of this article, Microsoft sends information to Bing from your search bar in the form of characters or completed search queries.
After Cortana has been turned off on your device, a new option should appear that says “Search online and include web results.”
This is related to showing results from Bing when using your computer’s search bar and can be disabled to ensure that you are not using any internet data when typing up a search.
You should also take a look at some other privacy options in the Settings application.
Click on the Windows logo in the bottom-left of your taskbar and select the gear icon to open Settings. Now, click on Privacy to open the tab we are going to change some settings in.
From the left side of the window, select Speech, inking, and typing.
The settings found in this menu are what allow Cortana and Bing to collect information about you personally, so by clicking the “Stop getting to know me“ button, you can turn that feature entirely off.
It is important to note that this will delete all the data collected on your PC, and on the downside, it will disable the dictation feature as well.
By clicking on “Go to Bing and manage personal info for all your devices” you can get rid of any data that Microsoft managed to collect about you through these practices.
Clearing this data will affect Cortana and potentially other personalization services you have on your computer, which you can read about on the page in further detail.
If you decide to accept these changes, you can simply click Clear.
Sometimes new features that are something someone has been waiting for and is extremely excited about end up becoming another person’s biggest nightmare, and this feature is definitely under that category for people who wish to have their privacy undisturbed.
Let us talk about Wi-Fi Sense.
This is something that is turned on by default but does not impact your system in any way unless you are using it explicitly.
The purpose of it is that it lets you share access to your password-protected Wi-Fi routers.
The passwords to these routers are shared over encrypted connections in the background with the people you choose to share the network access with, meaning that they will never actually see the password and can not grand further access to other people themselves.
This is useful if you have guests such as friends or family over, as they no longer have to ask for the Wi-Fi password and instead, any one of them who uses a Windows 10 and is a digital friend of the account that has Wi-Fi sense enabled automatically gets access to the internet through the router.
If you want to turn Wi-Fi sense off, you can navigate to Settings (gear icon) from the Windows icon in the bottom-left of your screen, then select Network & Internet. Here, choose Wi-Fi then Manage Wi-Fi settings.
You will see two options, and if they are turned on you can simply click on the slide under them to turn them off: “Connect to suggested open hotspots” and “Connect to open networks shared by my contacts.”
Further privacy in Settings
Now that most of the crucial privacy options are covered, we can take one last look into the Privacy tab accessible from the Settings app.
You can review and decide what you want to keep turned on or what you want to get rid of, but below are some suggested actions you can take to make sure you protect your privacy when using Windows 10.
First, you can turn off the option that reads “Send Microsoft info about how I write to help us improve typing and writing in the future.” You should also disable “Let websites provide locally relevant content by accessing my language list.”
Under the General heading, you can see a long list of other tabs that you should take a look into to access further privacy settings.
The names of these sections should be pretty self-explanatory, for example, under Location you can decide whether or not applications can access your current location and deliver services based on it, such as weather forecasts or local news.
You can either turn off location services for your entire PC by clicking Change or turn them off only for your user by clicking the slide under Location until it says Off.
There is even an option to only disable location services for certain applications while allowing everything else to use it.
Now that we have taken a look at Location, the rest of the settings follow the same format, allowing you to tweak permissions for microphone use, camera use, access to your contacts, and calendar entries - all system-wide or per-user/app.