Windows 10 has received a lot of criticism for collecting personal information. Rumor has it that Microsoft is copying user’s files and information. These rumors have no basis. Microsoft is collecting basic data which they call telemetry from machines running Windows 10. This collection of data is not new. Microsoft has been collecting data and sending it home in every operating system since, and including Windows XP.
What is new is that to use Cortana effectively, more information must be collected. (We review Windows 10 and Cortana here). Also unless you are a Windows 10 Enterprise user, there is no way to disable the telemetry data in Windows 10. This is what is making people angry. Microsoft says that the company needs this information to improve the overall experience for everyone using Windows 10. If, however, they were to give us a kill switch to disable the collection and transfer of the data, they would still get plenty of telemetry from people who accepted the defaults and never used the kill switch.
Just about every company out there is collecting information about us, so it is good to be aware of all the privacy options that can be user-controlled. Windows 10 does offer some control over privacy options. Unfortunately, the places where you can control these privacy options are spread across the operating and can be difficult both to find and to understand.
Some Windows 10 privacy and security options can be chosen during the installation. If, however, you haven’t set these they are all still available after installation.
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To find the main privacy settings, choose Settings from the Start menu. Then choose Privacy. In the General tab all the options are turned on by default. You can turn off the advertising tracking, SmartScreen Filter, and can also stop sending info to Microsoft about typing and writing.
In the Privacy area, you will also want to visit the Feedback & diagnostics tab to at least limit the data that is sent to Microsoft. In this area you can choose the amount of Windows diagnostic and usage data sent to Microsoft from your device. The choices are: Basic, Enhanced, and Full.
In this area you can also turn off the location services, the camera and the microphone. It is worth taking the time to look through each of the Privacy tabs to limit Microsoft’s access as much as you like.
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If you hate the fact that Microsoft and others always seem to know what you just looked at and they use this information to entice you with ads for similar items, there is a way to turn these ads off. Stay in the Privacy area. Choose Manage my Microsoft adverting and other personalization info at the bottom of the Privacy screen. The next screen gives you information about personalized ads. Clicking on the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) will give you even more information and the opportunity to opt-out of personalized ads by company. Unfortunately, this information is provided by Microsoft, so it only covers the Edge browser. If you use some other browser you can access the DAA from that browser to get a list of companies that are providing customized ads.
I was amazed to find several computers with almost 100 companies customizing ads. Remember, this will not turn off all ads, but only prevent personalization of ads.
Windows 10 Privacy with Cortana
As useful as Cortana is, she is also pretty invasive. Microsoft gathers information about you to help her provide answers. All of that information is stored in the cloud. You don’t have to set up Cortana at all, but if you do you will want to look at what she is collecting.
Type Cortana in the search box and choose Cortana & Search settings. A small window will popup showing you the Cortana Settings. This is where you can customize and/or control Cortana.
As mentioned above, you can turn off your microphone completely, but Microsoft also uses your browsing history to help Cortana if she is enabled. You can turn this off by clicking on three dots on the top right corner of Edge and choosing Settings, Advanced Settings, and View Advanced Settings. Under Privacy and services turn off “Have Cortana Assist Me in Microsoft Edge.” In the same area, you can choose to not have Microsoft save passwords and several other interesting settings.
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Windows 10 will always prompt you to create a Microsoft account. The Microsoft account is free and doesn’t require a credit card, but you don’t have to sign up if you don’t want to. Not creating a Microsoft account will keep your activity and information local to your computer, but this will limit your use of the Microsoft Store and some other activities.
If you decide to have a Microsoft account, you can access and control the use of some of your information in the Bing Personalization area. In this area you can clear your personal information as well as your search history. You can get links to other Microsoft services. You can also clear the considerable information that Cortana collects including your calendar, contacts, and location.
Although Bing is the default search engine for Windows 10, you can change it if you like. Remember though, if you decide to use Google or some other search engine, you will find that those other companies are gathering just as much information about you as Microsoft.
Once you start looking at all of the Windows 10 Privacy settings, you will be amazed. Although Microsoft is not copying your documents or files, they are gathering a ton of information. So it is certainly worth limiting that data sharing as much as possible.
We hope this tutorial has clarified all of the places where you can adjust the Windows 10 Privacy Settings.