Windows 10 Security Settings You Should Know

So you installed Windows 10 and now you want to do stuff. You open your browser to search, and Bing already knows your location. You notice that all the banner ads are geared toward your secret hobby. And when you open Cortana to ask what’s going on, she knows your name and the embarrassing nickname your mother calls you.

This may seems like a stretch, but you’d be surprised by the amount of personal information Windows 10 collects from its users—information including phone numbers, GPS location, credit card numbers, and even video and audio messages. Of course, Microsoft’s privacy statement outlines all the data that is collected, and you agreed to this when you downloaded Windows 10 and checked the terms of service.
In this Age of the Unread Terms of Service Agreement, it’s important to, well, read the ToS. It’s too easy for our technologies to gather personal information without our realizing it. Microsoft is far from the only perpetrator, but since it just delivered us an exciting new operating system, it’s time to dig into those settings.

The Privacy Policy; Your Privacy

In the privacy statement mentioned before, Microsoft goes through three ways it uses personal data: 1) to operate their business and provide the services they offer (including improvements and personalizing), 2) to send communications, including promotional communications and 3) to display advertising. If you want more detail, visit Microsoft's privacy policies. Here’s the overview:

1. “To operate our business…”: Many of Microsoft’s applications require personal information in order to operate. For example, if you are using the Maps application, it will need your location to function properly. This instance makes sense, but not all applications are quite as direct with their usage of your information. Cortana also uses your location, and the only way to prevent this is to not use Cortana. Microsoft also collects data to understand why certain applications crash in order to improve them, but this also means tracking your usage of these applications. This means that if Microsoft Office crashes while you are using it, Microsoft will be able to see the Excel or Word documents that were open during the crash.

2. “To send communications…”: Microsoft gathers contact information to make sure it can reach you if any of its primary means of communication fail. Recall that Microsoft already disclosed in the privacy statement that it collects the phone number, email, and mailing address of its users. But Microsoft mainly disclosed that it uses this information to send promotions. Microsoft does this because it wants you as a loyal customer, but to manage these communications click here if you have a Microsoft account, or here if you do not. It is also important to mention that this information is shared with “Microsoft partners.”

3. “To display advertising”: It seems like standard internet procedure to track users in order to sell ads. Facebook does it, Google does it, and Microsoft does it. Microsoft generates revenue from ads, and by selling demographic information to third-party advertisers, Microsoft can make even more. This is called interest-based advertising, and Microsoft even gives you your own advertising ID to make things easier. You can opt-out of interest-based ads, by following this link. However, opting-out does not prevent data collection nor does it result in less ads.

Turning Off the Tracking

The first action is to head to your privacy settings. Click Start, then find Settings, then clicking Privacy. From the Privacy menu you can alter how your computer uses the information from your location, microphone, camera and so on. While in the Privacy menu, you’ll want to click Feedback & Diagnostics and change the Feedback Frequency to “never” and Diagnostic and Usage Data to “basic.” Doing this will help prevent Microsoft from gathering random information.

Creating a Microsoft Account is... Optional

By default, Windows 10 prompts you to create a Microsoft account, but you should probably skip this if you are concerned about your private information. If you skip this step, your activity will be kept local to your computer. Having an account will create a link for Microsoft to piece all of the metadata it gathers back to your online identity. Before creating a Microsoft account, be sure to read up on its privacy policy.

In order to delete or manage your Microsoft account go to Settings -> Accounts -> Your Account.

Your Browser History

Edge sends your Internet browsing history to Microsoft in order to “help Cortana personalize your experience.” You can turn this off by clicking on the ellipsis button in the top right corner of Edge, then go to Settings > Advanced Settings > View Advanced Settings, and under Privacy and Services turn off “Have Cortana Assist Me in Microsoft Edge.” And while you’re in the Privacy and Services menu, make sure you turn off “use page prediction to speed up browsing, improve reading, and make my overall experience better” (which is an incredible title for a default setting).

Exercise Cortana Caution

While Cortana may be an exciting part of Windows 10, she’s a bit intrusive. Microsoft prides itself on Cortana’s ability to learn about you and create a more personal experience, but in order to do this, Cortana has to gather a lot information from you. This information includes anything from location, contacts, and even speech and handwriting data. Perhaps most significantly, all your interactions with Cortana are stored in the cloud.
All of this is part of Microsoft’s attempt to make Windows 10 more personalized, but if that sounds too creepy for you, you can adjust your settings by logging in here. From there you can clear the “interests” data that Cortana and Bing learned about you, as well as clear other Cortana data including “Speech, Inking and Typing” information.

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