Re­claim your pri­vacy

Win­dows 10 has deep cloud hooks and shares a lot of data with Mi­crosoft in or­der to cre­ate a smart, seam­less ex­pe­ri­ence across de­vices. If you pre­fer some pri­vacy, Ian Paul shows how to dis­able all of it

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Win­dows 10 is in­fused with data­track­ing el­e­ments and hooks into Mi­crosoft’s online ser­vices. Hand­ing over all that data has some tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits though, such as its OneDrive in­te­gra­tion and the Bing-pow­ered brains be­hind the Cor­tana dig­i­tal as­sis­tant, but not ev­ery­one is thrilled with the idea of Mi­crosoft con­stantly look­ing over their dig­i­tal shoul­der.

This guide will show you how to dis­able Win­dows 10’s in­te­gra­tion, as well as pro­vide tips on what those fea­tures ac­tu­ally do. That way you can de­cide whether you want to keep any of it ac­tive or just shut the door on Mi­crosoft’s cloud al­to­gether.

Advertisin­g

One set­ting you should con­sider dis­abling is Win­dows 10’s advertisin­g in­te­gra­tion. While we don’t mind see­ing ads on web­sites, since that’s what pays for most of the free con­tent we see online, we don’t like is ‘ad per­son­al­i­sa­tion’. We don’t need ads that are sup­pos­edly tai­lored thanks to cook­ies that track our trav­els around the web.

Turn­ing off per­son­alised ads in Win­dows 10 is a two-step process. First, go to Set­tings > Pri­vacy > Gen­eral and slide the ‘Let apps use my advertisin­g ID for ex­pe­ri­ence across apps (turn­ing this off will re­set your ID)’ op­tion to Off. Next, open your web browser of choice and go to tinyurl.com/ ox­u5pky. Se­lect Off in both ‘Per­son­al­ized ads in this browser’ and ‘Per­son­al­ized ads wher­ever I use my Mi­crosoft ac­count’.

Tip: If you are us­ing an ad blocker or an ex­ten­sion such as the EFF’s Pri­vacy Badger (tinyurl.com/ny4eLgj), you may

have to turn it off for this site be­fore you’ll see the op­tion to turn off in-browser ad per­son­al­i­sa­tion. The site has to set a cookie for this sec­ond op­tion to work.

Cor­tana

Mi­crosoft’s built-in dig­i­tal as­sis­tant is use­ful for tasks such as quickly set­ting re­minders. The in­for­ma­tion it col­lects is sim­i­lar to that Google does with Google Now, which you may al­ready be us­ing on your An­droid de­vice. If, how­ever, you don’t like Cor­tana, it’s easy to turn off, and if you haven’t used Mi­crosoft’s per­sonal as­sis­tant, it’s al­ready off.

Click on the Cor­tana icon in the taskbar, and then on the notebook icon on the left- hand side of the pop-up panel. Se­lect Set­tings from the list of op­tions that ap­pear. Slide off the ‘Cor­tana can give you sug­ges­tions, ideas, re­minders, alerts, and more’ op­tion. Once it’s gone, you’ll see a new op­tion – Search online and in­clude web re­sults. As its ti­tle sug­gests, this in­cludes Bing re­sults when you look for things on your com­puter. You’ll have to de­cide whether or not you want that en­abled.

It’s also a good idea to jump back into the Set­tings app’s pri­vacy sec­tion. Open Set­tings and go to Pri­vacy > Speech, ink­ing, and typ­ing. This is a set­ting that al­lows Cor­tana to gather all kinds of in­for­ma­tion about you to de­liver its ser­vices. Click the Stop get­ting to know me but­ton to end that. Note that this will delete col­lected data stored on your PC, and also turns off dic­ta­tion func­tion­al­ity.

Once that’s done, click ‘Go to Bing and man­age per­sonal info for all your de­vices’. This is where you can delete any data that Mi­crosoft has col­lected about you from its servers. Clear­ing this will af­fect the per­for­mance of Cor­tana and other per­son­al­i­sa­tion ser­vices across your de­vices and Mi­crosoft ser­vices. You can read through

this page to un­der­stand what you’re los­ing, or just jump to the bot­tom and click Clear.

Wi-Fi Sense and peer-to-peer

Now let’s look at two fea­tures of Win­dows 10 that are in­no­va­tive, though those who value their pri­vacy may not ap­pre­ci­ate them. The first is Wi-Fi Sense. This is turned on by de­fault, but doesn’t do any­thing un­less you ex­plic­itly use it. It al­lows you to share ac­cess to pass­word-pro­tected Wi-Fi routers. The pass­words are shared silently in the back­ground over en­crypted con­nec­tions. Peo­ple you share net­work ac­cess with don’t see the pass­words, and they are not in turn granted shar­ing per­mis­sions for their friends.

The idea is that if your friends or fam­ily come over to your house they don’t have to ask for your pass­word. In­stead, any­one with a Win­dows 10 de­vice and is a dig­i­tal friend of yours is au­to­mat­i­cally logged in. This is more se­cure than shar­ing your pass­word with any­one who walks through your door. Once a per­son knows your Wi-Fi pass­word they could share it with oth­ers, af­ter all.

To turn Wi-Fi Sense off, go to Set­tings > Net­work & In­ter­net > Wi-Fi > Man­age Wi-Fi Set­tings. You’ll see two op­tions: ‘Con­nect to sug­gested open hotspots’ and ‘Con­nect to open net­works shared by my con­tacts’. Slide these to Off.

Mov­ing on, Win­dows 10 shares sys­tem files and up­dates down­loaded to your PC with oth­ers by de­fault. This peer-to-peer net­work­ing fea­ture helps oth­ers get up­dates and sys­tem files faster. In re­turn, your PC also re­ceives up­dates via other peo­ple’s PCs.

If you don’t like the sound of this, go to Set­tings > Up­date & Se­cu­rity > Win­dows Up­date > Ad­vanced op­tions > Choose how up­dates are de­liv­ered. By de­fault, ‘Up­dates from more than one place’ is en­abled and set to both lo­cal sources and other PCs on the in­ter­net. You have two ad­di­tional choices, how­ever – you can dis­trib­ute up­dates only to PCs on your lo­cal net­work, or shut off the P2P up­dates en­tirely and stick to us­ing Mi­crosoft’s servers alone.

If you want to shut ev­ery­thing off, turn the slider on this screen to Off. If you want to share with PCs on your lo­cal net­work, leave the slider in the On po­si­tion and se­lect the ‘PCs on my lo­cal net­work’ but­ton.

OneDrive

If you’re not in­ter­ested in stor­ing your files on Mi­crosoft’s cloud servers, you can turn off OneDrive, so it stops bug­ging you to con­fig­ure it. Click the up­ward-fac­ing arrow in the sys­tem tray on the right-hand side of the taskbar. Next, right-click the OneDrive icon and se­lect Set­tings. In the new win­dow that opens, uncheck ‘Start OneDrive au­to­mat­i­cally when I sign in to Win­dows’.

Set­tings

We’ve got the most es­sen­tial parts of our pri­vacy lock­down fin­ished. It’s now time to look at the pri­vacy op­tions in the Set­tings app by go­ing to Set­tings > Pri­vacy.

This is the core of Win­dows 10’s pri­vacy con­trols, but most are not as crit­i­cal as the other items we’ve cov­ered. The ex­cep­tions are the re­main­ing items un­der Pri­vacy > Gen­eral. Here you’ll want to turn off ‘Send Mi­crosoft info about how I write to help us im­prove typ­ing and writ­ing in the fu­ture’. You may also want to shut off ‘Let web­sites pro­vide lo­cally rel­e­vant con­tent by ac­cess­ing my lan­guage list’.

Af­ter tak­ing care of the set­tings un­der Gen­eral, what you’ll mostly see in the re­main­ing sec­tions are meth­ods for apps to ac­cess your data.

The Lo­ca­tion sec­tion lets you con­trol whether apps can use your lo­ca­tion to de­liver ser­vices such as weather fore­casts and lo­cal news. Lo­ca­tion is a lit­tle un­usual since it can be set both on a per-de­vice or per-user ba­sis. To turn off lo­ca­tion for the whole PC, click the Change but­ton. To turn it off for only the logged-in user, turn the ‘Lo­ca­tion’ slider to Off (see top right).

You can also con­trol lo­ca­tion set­tings on a per-app ba­sis by scrolling down to ‘Choose apps that can use your lo­ca­tion’. Af­ter lo­ca­tion is taken care of, the rest of

Wi-Fi Sense is turned on by de­fault, but doesn’t do any­thing un­less you ex­plic­itly use it. It al­lows you to share ac­cess to pass­word-pro­tected Wi-Fi routers

the set­tings fol­low a sim­i­lar for­mat, al­low­ing you to turn off ac­cess to things such as your cam­era, mi­cro­phone, con­tacts and cal­en­dar on a sys­temwide or per-app ba­sis. Keep in mind there may be some things you want to keep on. The Mail app isn’t much use if it can’t ac­cess your con­tacts, for ex­am­ple.

Mi­crosoft Edge

Even if you use Mi­crosoft’s new browser, there might be fea­tures, such as Cor­tana in­te­gra­tion and typ­ing pre­dic­tion, that you may want to dis­able if you don’t want to send any data back to Mi­crosoft.

Open Edge and click on the menu icon in the far right cor­ner (three hor­i­zon­tal dots) and then go to Set­tings > View Ad­vanced Set­tings. Here you have the op­tion to turn off Adobe Flash (some­thing we rec­om­mend) and then un­der ‘Pri­vacy and ser­vices’, you can de­cide to switch off a num­ber of set­tings. These in­clude: Of­fer to save pass­words en­tries

and are both turned on by de­fault, which you may not want. They are handy fea­tures, though. Have Cor­tana as­sist me in Mi­crosoft Edge

lets Cor­tana work in­side the browser. If you’ve al­ready switched off Win­dows’ per­sonal as­sis­tant, then you def­i­nitely don’t want this fea­ture turned on.

Show search sug­ges­tions as I type

uses Mi­crosoft’s web-pow­ered pre­dic­tion ser­vice to try and work out what you’re search­ing for and then fill it in au­to­mat­i­cally. Chrome and the stan­dard ver­sion of Google search of­fer some­thing sim­i­lar, so you may al­ready use this else­where. Use page pre­dic­tion to speed up brows­ing, im­prove read­ing and make my over­all ex­pe­ri­ence bet­ter

is sim­i­lar to search sug­ges­tions in that it sends your brows­ing history to Mi­crosoft. The com­pany says this fea­ture “uses ag­gre­gated brows­ing history data to pre­dict which pages you’re likely to browse to next, and then loads those pages in the back­ground for a faster brows­ing ex­pe­ri­ence”. If you don’t like the sound of this, you should turn it off. Help pro­tect me from ma­li­cious sites and down­loads with SmartScree­n fil­ter lets Mi­crosoft block ma­li­cious sites and down­loads from in­fect­ing your PC. This fea­ture al­lows the tech gi­ant to down­load a list of sus­pi­cious URLs to your PC, so Edge can block those sites. How­ever, with SmartScree­n ac­tive, when­ever you land on a ma­li­cious web­site, you will be redi­rected to a Mi­crosoft web page that will gather some PC in­for­ma­tion and the web ad­dress of the page you vis­ited. If you ask us, the SmartScree­n fil­ter is pretty be­nign and well worth keep­ing ac­ti­vated.

For more in­for­ma­tion, go to Mi­crosoft’s Edge pri­vacy FAQ at tinyurl.com/pwzmcs8.

Con­trol Panel SmartScree­n

There are three SmartScree­n fil­ters in Win­dows 10. The sec­ond of these is in the Con­trol Panel and stops you from in­stalling po­ten­tially ma­li­cious desk­top pro­grams on your PC. It first ap­peared in Win­dows 8.

To of­fer this se­cu­rity fea­ture, how­ever, you have to share with Mi­crosoft in­for­ma­tion about the pro­grams you down­load and in­stall, though you do so anony­mously.

Ad­vanced users may want to just dis­able this fea­ture as it tends to be a nui­sance. We’d strongly ad­vise that novice and in­ter­me­di­ate users leave SmartScree­n as it is, though. To dis­able it, right-click the Start menu but­ton and se­lect Con­trol Panel from the con­text

The Lo­ca­tion sec­tion lets you con­trol whether apps can use your lo­ca­tion to de­liver ser­vices such as lo­cal news, and can be set both on a per-de­vice or per-user ba­sis

menu. Then, with the cat­e­gory view en­abled, go to Sys­tem and Se­cu­rity > Se­cu­rity and Main­te­nance. Se­lect Change Win­dows SmartScree­n set­tings from the left-side pane.

In the win­dow that opens, se­lect the but­ton next to ‘Don’t do any­thing (turn off Win­dows SmartScree­n)’.

Win­dows 10 and the web

We’re al­most done. Just two more sec­tions to go, although the last one is only for the hard­core pri­vacy types. First we want to deal with some odds and ends.

We’ll start by ex­am­in­ing the way that Win­dows 10 syncs your per­son­alised set­tings across de­vices, in­clud­ing your desk­top back­ground, web browser set­tings, saved pass­words, lan­guage pref­er­ences, ease of ac­cess, and other Win­dows set­tings.

The abil­ity to sit down with any Win­dows 10 de­vice, log in with your Mi­crosoft ac­count, and have all your set­tings and pref­er­ences im­me­di­ately show up is in­cred­i­bly handy. But if you’d rather not store all that in­for­ma­tion in Mi­crosoft’s servers, the eas­i­est thing to do here is just turn off the ‘Sync set­tings’ op­tion, found un­der Set­tings > Ac­counts > Sync your set­tings. If you want to take a more fine-grain ap­proach, then you can drill down into the synced items un­der ‘In­di­vid­ual sync set­tings’.

Fi­nally, let’s move on to the Win­dows Store SmartScree­n Fil­ter – go to Set­tings > Pri­vacy > Gen­eral. Like its Edge coun­ter­part, it checks the URLs of Win­dows Store apps and makes sure they’re not up to any­thing fishy. It’s a se­cu­rity mea­sure that is worth turn­ing on. But if you’d rather not use it, go to Set­tings > Pri­vacy > Gen­eral and slide the ‘Turn on SmartScree­n Fil­ter to check web con­tent (URLs) that Win­dows Store apps use’ op­tion to Off.

Lo­cal ac­count

Our fi­nal tip con­cerns us­ing Win­dows 10 with a lo­cal ac­count. Go to Set­tings > Ac­counts > Your ac­count and se­lect ‘Sign in with a lo­cal ac­count in­stead’. Fol­low the wiz­ard to start us­ing a lo­cal ac­count on your PC – one that isn’t tied to your Mi­crosoft ac­count. Us­ing a lo­cal ac­count will still let you ac­cess some of Win­dows 10’s built-in fea­tures, such as the Mail app, though you may also lose ac­cess to oth­ers that re­quire a Mi­crosoft ac­count, such as the Win­dows Store. You also can’t sync your set­tings to other Win­dows de­vices, but if pri­vacy is your main con­cern, then you’ve prob­a­bly al­ready turned off this op­tion.

So there you have it: all the pri­vacy steps you need to take to keep Win­dows 10 firmly planted on the desk­top and not the cloud. It’s ad­mit­tedly a lot of work, but the good news is it only takes a few min­utes to stay lo­cal once you know what you need to do.

Us­ing a lo­cal ac­count will still let you ac­cess some of Win­dows 10’s built-in fea­tures, though you may also lose ac­cess to oth­ers that re­quire a Mi­crosoft ac­count

J

Pri­vacy op­tions

Wi-Fi Sense

Cor­tana

OneDrive

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