Reclaim your Windows privacy
1 AD PERSONALISATION
Personalised ads are a form of targeted marketing that companies use online. When you visit a website for the first time, a ‘cookie’ is downloaded to your PC — a small text file of viewing data that the site uses if you ever return, so that it can tailor the ads you see. Happily, Windows 10 makes advertising personalisation optional by integrating it into its privacy settings.
2 DISABLE ADS IN WINDOWS
Disabling personalised ads in Windows 10 is a two-step process. First, go to Settings then navigate to the Privacy > General panel via the left-hand column and slide off the button next to the option ‘Allow apps to use Advertising ID to make ads more interesting to you based on your app usage (turning this off will reset your ID)’.
3 DISABLE ADS ONLINE
This step has to be carried out online, so open the Microsoft Edge web browser, type choice.microsoft.com/en-us/opt-out into the address bar and hit Enter. On the page that appears, select the Off buttons in the box under ‘Interest-based ads: Microsoft account’ and the box next to ‘Interest-based ads: This browser’.
4 TURN OFF ACTIVITY HISTORY
Windows now keeps track of when and how you use your computer by default. This running timeline is used by Microsoft’s AI to find patterns in your usage and does theoretically do some useful things, like scheduling updates at convenient times. This tracking can be optionally unchecked in the ‘Activity history’ section.
5 MINIMISE DIAGNOSTICS AND FEEDBACK
While Microsoft makes it seem like your data helps fix bugs, the ‘diagnostic feedback’ that you’re volunteering is often more than just what’s required to improve an application. In addition to diagnostic data if you select ‘Full feedback’ then “info about the websites you browse and how you use apps and features” is also sent to Microsoft. Switch the slider to Basic to avoid this.
6 SPEECH, INKING AND TYPING
You can give Microsoft access to the microphone, keyboard and writing box so it can learn your language patterns to predict what you might want to say. If, however, you have no need for Cortana and/or you don’t think predictive autofill features warrant access to your typing, then you can turn these features off in the ‘Speech, inking and typing’ section of the Windows privacy settings.
7 CORTANA DATA GATHERING
Cortana is Microsoft’s digital personal assistant built into Windows 10. It’s a useful feature that lets you create calendar events, send email, set up reminders plus a range of other actions. But to perform these duties it has to collect your data. If you’ve never used Cortana, then you have nothing to do, but if you do and you could live without it, here’s how to turn it off.
8 GOODBYE CORTANA
Click the Cortana icon in the taskbar and then select the notebook icon on the left side of the menu. Choose Permissions. At the top is a slider for an option to let Cortana collect and use your location for more accurate searches; turn it off. Click on the Settings icon on the left side and there are further options to change or delete any information Cortana may have gathered.
9 BING SEARCH
Bing is Microsoft’s answer to Google. It also collects data on your online activities, which then feeds into Cortana and other Windows 10 services. To turn it off, open Settings and go to ‘Cortana > Speech and history’. Click the option to ‘Clear my device history’. You can also then turn off ‘My device history’ and ‘My cloud search’ to prevent Bing from continuing to log your searches.
10 USING A LOCAL ACCOUNT
Using a local account in Windows 10 is a privacy-savvy way of limiting the system’s access to the cloud. To set one up, go to ‘Settings > Accounts > Your account’, select the option to ‘Sign in with a local account instead’ and follow the wizard. Bear in mind that you’ll lose access to any Windows features that are tied to your online Microsoft account, such as Windows Store.