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Since its release, Windows 10 has been a nightmare for those concerned about online privacy. Microsoft’s data and telemetry collection has been challenged by several European countries, as well as most all of the American computing technical writers.
Granted, most software does collect some data, usually if a program crashes. That’s valuable to help the software writers understand bugs that may be causing problems in their applications.
But Microsoft has refused to detail just what information has been collected and why. And even worse, what they have done with all of that private information after it was collected. At lease Google and Facebook were open about their data collection practices, and made clear the data was used for resale to advertisers. They also gave users a way to opt-out of data collection.
Microsoft, however, has refused to allow users of Windows 10 to opt out of the data collection. And that alone angered many Windows users. In fact, it led to a resistance movement by many technically oriented users to NOT to move from Windows 7 up to Windows 10.
With its Windows 10 Creators Update, Microsoft is attempting to be more transparent with its privacy settings. It may have simplified some of the language of its policies, but there is still work to be done.
Here are five privacy-related settings you can change for a less invasive and more secure Windows 10 experience.
Stop Cortana from getting to know you
In order for Cortana to be the best virtual personal assistant ever, she’ll ask you early on if she can “get to know you” through the way you interact with your device — namely, your speech, handwriting and typing patterns. The “getting to know you” feature also allows Windows 10 to collect other information about you, including your calendar, contacts, location and browsing history, according to Microsoft’s privacy statement.
You can stop Cortana from getting to know you. If you do this, you will not be able to use voice dictation to speak to Cortana, and all personal information that Cortana has collected will be cleared.
To turn this off, go to Settings > Privacy > Speech, inking & typing. Under Getting to know you, click Turn off speech services and typing suggestions. This will turn off dictation and will clear any collected information from your device. You can also clear your collected information from Cortana’s settings menu, under Manage my voice data that’s stored in the cloud with my Microsoft account.
Turn off your location
If you’re using a mobile device, such as a tablet or a laptop, there are plenty of times when allowing Windows 10 and third-party apps to access your location is convenient. But that doesn’t mean that you should leave your location switched on at all times. When your location is switched on, Windows 10 stores your device’s location history for up to 24 hours and allows apps with location permission to access that data.
If you turn your location off, apps that use your location (such as the Maps app) will not be able to find you. You can, however, manually set a default location that apps can use as a stand-in.
To turn off your location, go to Settings > Privacy > Location. You can either turn off location for all users (under Location for this device is on > Change), or you can turn off location services for your account (under Location service). In this menu, you can also clear your Location history and allow certain apps to see (or not see) your exact location. Apps in the location list will have a note if they use location history data.
On mobile devices, you can quickly toggle your location services on and off in the Action center. You may need to expand the grid but you’ll find a Location button in there along with Airplane mode and the other quick action items.
There’s a lot of syncing going on in Windows 10. If you sign in with a Microsoft account, your settings — including passwords — may be synced across other devices you sign into with the same account. Your notifications may also be synced across devices.
If you turn off syncing, your settings and passwords will not be synced across other devices when you sign in with your Microsoft account, so you’ll need to do things like enter passwords in manually.
To turn off settings syncing, got to Settings > Accounts > Sync your settings. You can either turn off all setting syncing at once, or you can toggle individual sync settings off.
To turn off notification syncing, open Cortana and go to Settings > Send notifications between devices. You can turn this off to turn off all notifications syncing, and you can also click Edit sync settings to manage your different signed-in devices.
Lock down your lock screen
The lock screen is the first thing anyone sees when they open up your device, and this screen can have a lot of information that you might not want strangers to access.
Here are three things you need to do to lock down your lock and log-in screens:
Make sure your notifications aren’t appearing on the lock screen. Go to Settings > System > Notifications & actions and turn off Show notifications on the lock screen. The downside to turning this feature off, of course, is that you won’t be able to see any notifications until you unlock your device.
Turn off Cortana on the lock screen by opening Cortana and going to Settings > Use Cortana even when my device is locked. The downside to turning this feature off is that you won’t be able to use Cortana while your device is locked. You can also limit her scope on the lock screen (instead of turning her off completely) by unchecking the box next to Let Cortana access my calendar, email, messages and Power BI when my device is locked. This way, you’ll still be able to ask Cortana to answer questions that don’t reveal any personal information while your device is locked.
Hide your email address on the log-in screen by opening the Settings menu and going to Accounts > Sign-in options > Privacy. Turn off the toggle under Show account details (e.g. email address) on sign-in screen. There’s pretty much no downside to turning this feature off, unless you really like seeing your email address.
Turn off your advertising ID
Each Microsoft account has a unique advertising ID that lets the company collect information about you and deliver a personalized ad experience across different platforms. If you sign into Windows 10 with a Microsoft account, those personalized ads will follow you onto your computer — you’ll see them in apps and possibly in the operating system itself (in the Start menu, for example).
To turn these ads off in Windows 10, go to Settings > Privacy > General and toggle off Let apps use advertising ID to make ads more interesting to you based on your app usage. You’ll still see ads, but they won’t be eerily personalized to your tastes and preferences.
Turning this feature off will prevent personalized ads from popping up in your Windows 10 experience, but won’t necessarily keep you from seeing personalized ads when you’re using your Microsoft account on other platforms. To get rid of ads on other platforms, such as in browsers, head to Microsoft’s advertising opt-out page.
Lastly, you can visit Microsoft’s privacy dashboard for your account to see what information it’s storing in the cloud about you, including your browsing and search history in Microsoft Edge and your location data.
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