Microsoft’s Windows 10 is now the world’s most popular desktop operating system. But if you want to control how it uses your data, here are a few top tips.
Windows 10 is running on 700 million devices, and it is now the most popular desktop OS in the world. It has faster shortcuts, smarter features and smoother speech recognition, but there is one thing that is still up to the user to manage efficiently: security.
Like any OS, Windows will, by default, try to gather data about its customers in sometimes unexpected places. There are, however, a number of easy steps you can take to know exactly what it has on you, and to stop it from finding out more if that makes you uncomfortable.
Know what data you really want to share
Microsoft claims that it gathers some of your data to offer you customised experiences, improved platforms or personalised advice. If you don’t really want any of these, you might find it useful to look at the “Diagnostics & Feedback” tab in the “Privacy” section of your settings, where you can see exactly what data the OS collects about you.
Another feature worth looking at is Timeline, which lets Windows register what activities you have been carrying out, so that you can resume them on any other Windows device you have. You can switch this off by unchecking the boxes “Store my activity on this device” and “Send my activity history to Microsoft” in your privacy settings.
Put an end to targeted advertising
In a similar vein, Microsoft collects information about its users to create personalised advertising IDs for them, which apps can access to tailor ads to individual preferences. If that unnerves you, make sure that you disable apps’ access to your advertising ID in the “General” tab of your privacy settings.
It is worth remembering that this won’t stop ads from popping up. You will keep seeing them in your apps, but they won’t be based on your previous searches and preferences.
If your frustration rather comes from the fact that the ads you have been seeing are not customised enough, this tab is also what you’ve been looking for. You can, indeed, reset your advertising ID completely by clicking the “Off” switch and then turning it on again.
Manage the data your apps can access
The easiest way to make sure that individual apps access only the data you are willing to share is to manage those settings manually from the privacy tab in the “Account Information” section. This where you can stop apps from accessing information stored in your Microsoft account.
What’s more, if continuous GPS tracking makes you feel uncomfortable, it is worth knowing that Windows 10 stores your device location’s history for up to 24 hours after you have switched on location – and it allows apps with permission to access this information. You can, however, turn off location tracking entirely by clicking “Change” in the “Location” tab of your privacy settings. This will disable mapping apps and localised search, but you can set a default location for those apps to use as a stand-in if necessary.
Finally, you’ll be happy to know that you can ditch that dusty black tape stuck over your webcam. You can easily control camera access in the “Camera” menu of the “Privacy” section, and either completely turn it off, or manage access for individual apps.
Make privacy management a lot easier
Did all those tips sound like a lot of tab-opening, toggle switching, and confused navigating through various settings on your device? That’s because it is –but Microsoft has actually built a web tool to make all this important admin as smooth as possible.
The only catch is that it doesn’t let you see your data when you use other browsers than Microsoft Edge or Internet Explorer. We’ll have to give Microsoft a “fair enough” on this one.
Keep Cortana under control
There is a delicate balance to be reached between letting Cortana carry out all the tasks you don’t want to take care of, and letting the voice assistant access all of your data. If you wish to be on the safe side, though, you can stop it from knowing the details of your personal life.
Open the Cortana settings and click “Permissions & History” to turn off what you wish to hide from your assistant, from your location history to your contacts and emails. If you have, as previously recommended, downloaded Microsoft Privacy Dashboard, you can also manage a whole extra range of information that you want Cortana to stop tracking from the “Cortana’s Notebook” section. Plus, you can clear all data that it has already gathered.
In your privacy settings, you can also head to “Speech, Inking and Typing” to switch off voice assistance. This means you won’t be able to speak to Cortana anymore – but it will also prevent Microsoft from using your voice input to improve its speech services.
Safeguard your browser
There is a world of things you can do to make browsing safer. This makes it feel like a never-ending task; but before you give up, make sure that you are aware of the most basic security settings.
The first thing to do is to access Microsoft Edge’s privacy settings, which you will find by clicking the three dots on the upper-right hand side of the browser. Once you’re in, go to “Choose what to clear”, to manage what you would like to delete among browsing history, cookies, download history and more. This tab also lets you access location, microphone and webcam settings.
The advanced settings tab is where things get meaty. Depending on your preferences, you can block pop-ups, make sure your passwords aren’t saved (and use a reliable password manager instead), block cookies, or set your default search engine to an anonymous one like DuckDuckGo.
Anonymise your lock screen
A lock screen can actually hold a lot of personal information and you may want to make sure that it doesn’t show if someone else is using your device. For example, you might want to keep personal chat notifications, well, personal. To do so, head to your settings, and switch off the “Show notifications on the lock screen” option in the “Notifications & Actions” tab. You can also hide your email address when you log in by switching off “Show account details on sign-in screen” in the “Accounts” tab of your settings.
You can take things a step further by using a local account when logging into your PC, instead of using your Microsoft account, which holds all your personal information, saved passwords, settings and so on. A local account doesn’t even require an email, and will dramatically reduce the amount of information you share with Microsoft. Go to “Sign in with a local account instead” in the “Info” section of your account settings to get started. It’s true you won’t be able to buy apps from the Windows Store or sync files on OneDrive, OneNote or Office 365, but boy will your personal information be safe.