How To Stop Windows 10's Prying Eyes
I strongly suggest that anyone who has already installed or is considering
installing Windows 10, read this article, the link to which may be found at
the bottom of the text.
How To Stop Windows 10's Prying Eyes
Windows 10 is here, and Microsoft's latest operating system is designed for
a mobile-first, cloud-first future, as CEO Satya Nadella puts it. But that
future relies on big data - your data - and by default, Windows 10 can track
and share the websites you visit, the purchases you make, the places you go,
the words you type, the things you say and more.
You have the ability to control Windows 10's data collection, but it takes
some doing. The installation process lets you customize privacy settings at
the end or go with the defaults in "express settings." We'd suggest taking
the extra two minutes to forgo the latter and make your own choices here, or
adjusting the options after installation, because Microsoft's default
privacy settings might not be as private as you'd like.
The first page of settings lists four options that you can toggle on or off,
while the second page lists five items. All of them are on by default.
Under "Personalization," the first setting tailors your "speech, typing and
inking input" to the way you talk, type and write ... "by sending contacts
and calendar details, along with other associated input data to Microsoft."
The next setting sends typing and inking data to Microsoft to "improve the
recognition and suggestion platform."
Windows 10 may do the impossible: help Microsoft win back the hearts of PC
gamers Some people may be comfortable with this usage; after all,
third-party smartphone keyboards like SwiftKey improve their autocorrect
functionality by learning how you type. But for others, sharing "contacts
and calendar details" may be a bridge too far.
Next is a rather nebulous entry: "Let apps use your advertising ID for
experiences across apps." What this sentence doesn't quite explain is that
Windows 10 generates a unique advertising ID for each user. If this option
is enabled, it allows app developers and ad networks to profile you using
that ID and serve you ads based on how you use your PC.
The final part of the first settings page concerns location. Your computer
may not have a GPS radio in it like your smartphone does, but if you're
connected to the internet, your location can be tracked through your IP
address. With this option enabled, you're allowing Windows and apps to
request your location, including your location history. That's useful for
location-based services like, say, telling a retailer's website where you
are so it can give you the address of the nearest store.
However, the location setting also lets Windows 10 "send Microsoft and
trusted partners some location data to improve location services." That part
of the equation may give you pause, especially since you have no say in what
Microsoft's "trusted partners" might be. (ExtremeTech reports that the
Windows 8 installation process included a similar setting, but without the
sharing of your data with so-called trusted partners.)
Let's move to page two. The first toggle in the browser section enables
Microsoft's SmartScreen Filter, which protects you against "malicious
content and downloads" in Windows browsers - Microsoft Edge, which debuts in
Windows 10, and Internet Explorer - and Windows Store apps. That sounds
pretty good! Next is a setting for page prediction, which sends your
browsing data to Microsoft to "improve reading, speed up browsing, and make
your overall experience better in Windows browsers." You may have a similar
feature enabled in your existing web browser, such as Google Chrome.
The next two options govern the way your PC connects to wireless networks,
as part of a new Windows 10 feature called Wi-Fi Sense. The first setting
lets you automatically connect to "suggested open hotspots," while the
second does the same for "networks shared by your contacts."
According to Microsoft's Wi-Fi Sense FAQ, the former setting relies on
Microsoft's crowdsourced database of open Wi-Fi hotspots. If enough people
get a good-quality connection from a hotspot, it'll be added to the
The second setting is meant to eliminate the hassle of asking a friend for
their Wi-Fi password when you visit their place. If enabled, the setting
does two things: (1) allows you to select Wi-Fi networks to share with your
Outlook.com contacts, Skype contacts or Facebook friends, and (2) lets your
PC automatically connect to networks people have shared with you.
The way this works is that Wi-Fi passwords are shared through Wi-Fi Sense.
The passwords are encrypted, and Wi-Fi Sense only provides internet access,
not file sharing access. But those encrypted passwords are stored on a
Microsoft server somewhere. And there's no granularity: If you click the
Facebook check box, Wi-Fi Sense will allow all of your Facebook friends to
connect to networks you've selected for sharing.
The final setting during Windows 10's installation process lets your
computer "send error and diagnostic information to Microsoft." So if
something goes wrong with your PC in the future, it can send details of the
situation to Microsoft, and the company can hopefully use that data to help
find you a solution to the issue.
Adjusting privacy after installing Windows 10
If you did just click "express settings" during the Windows 10 installation,
that's OK: You can still change any of these settings whenever you want.
Microsoft offers a guide with a laughable lack of specifics on how to do
this, so here are some details.
Instead of visiting the Control Panel, like you might be accustomed to
doing, open the Start menu (yes, it's back!) and click on Settings in the
lower left area. (You can also reach the system settings by opening up
Windows 10's new Action Center - click on the speech bubble near the right
end of the taskbar, then click "All settings.")
Most of the aforementioned toggles can be found under Privacy. That section
also contains a host of other privacy settings, like options for which apps
are allowed to access your PC's location, camera, microphone, contacts,
calendar and more. To get to the Wi-Fi Sense options, click Network &
Internet in the system settings, then hit "Manage Wi-Fi settings" below the
list of available networks.
Cortana, Microsoft's voice-powered digital assistant - and yes, she's named
after the Halo character - is integrated directly into Windows 10. She's
undeniably useful, able to search your computer and the internet through
voice commands initiated with the phrase "hey, Cortana." She also offers
Google Now-like features such as presenting you with news, sports scores,
alerts, reminders and more.
But like Google with Google Now, Apple with Siri and Amazon with the Echo,
Microsoft needs to collect a lot of data about you and how you use the
internet in order to deliver that magical-seeming functionality. Here's a
relevant excerpt from Microsoft's privacy statement:
To enable Cortana to provide personalized experiences and relevant
suggestions, Microsoft collects and uses various types of data, such as your
device location, data from your calendar, the apps you use, data from your
emails and text messages, who you call, your contacts and how often you
interact with them on your device. Cortana also learns about you by
collecting data about how you use your device and other Microsoft services,
such as your music, alarm settings, whether the lock screen is on, what you
view and purchase, your browse and Bing search history, and more.
Cortana also analyzes your speech data, of course, and that information is
"sent to Microsoft to build personalized speech models and improve speech
recognition." Again, this kind of tracking is common to all these services,
because they couldn't function without it. But if you're not comfortable
with it, you can click the search bar that's embedded in the Windows 10
taskbar, then click the gear icon on the left side to access your Cortana
settings. There, you can turn Cortana on or off, and manage the information
about you that Cortana keeps in the cloud.
The last piece of the privacy puzzle isn't in Windows 10 at all; it's
located on a website, as Rock, Paper, Shotgun points out. On that site,
Microsoft makes the case for tailoring ads to your interests, and indeed,
that's something you may want. But the company lets you opt out of ad
personalization in two separate situations: in your browser, and "wherever I
use my Microsoft account," which includes Windows, Xbox and other Microsoft
Read the fine print
As we've noted above, online services that rely on the collection of mounds
of user data are only becoming more ubiquitous. These services look to make
our lives easier by learning how we live, work and play so they can
anticipate our next move, satisfying our desires before we even express
it's worth knowing what you're signing up for
There's a larger conversation to be had about whether, or to what extent, we
should be entrusting our ever-growing digital footprints to corporations
like Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon. But whichever side of
the debate you fall on, it's worth knowing what you're signing up for when
you scroll past the next end-user license agreement you see.