Windows 10 have taken a lot of criticism about their privacy settings, since their first launch in August 2015. As a result, there are plenty of anti-spying programs available, which promise to keep our personal data safe. Can these apps protect out privacy in Windows 10 and what privacy settings should we change in the operating system?
Table of Contents
- Does Microsoft collect personal data in Windows 10?
- Anti-spying tools
- Am I 100% safe with an anti-spying tool?
- Privacy Settings in Windows
- Microsoft account
- Do you use any anti-spying programs on Windows 10;
Does Microsoft collect personal data in Windows 10?
This might come as a surprise to some of you, but it's true. Microsoft collects personal data. At this point, I want to mention that our earth is round and there is no Santa Clause.
If you have read Microsoft's Privacy Statement, you already know that Microsoft collects many kinds of data and uses it in various ways.
This data could be anything, from names and credentials to device and usage data.
It's no secret why the largest tech companies (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc.) collect data when we browse the internet or when we use their software. It's all about advertising.
Microsoft's statements for more personalized and "interesting" ads, is just a load of... rubbish. The company and any similar companies don't care about our interests. They do care about our money though, and that is normal.
We understand that advertising funds a large part of the internet - our site is no exception. Without ads, most of the websites would probably run only behind paywalls or a paid subscription model.
But the worst part, in this case, is that with the default license agreement, Microsoft has the right to share our data, whenever and in any way the company sees fit.
When we read about anti-spying tools, the first thing that crosses our minds is malware and spyware in particular.
Spyware is any software that tries to collect personal data, without the user's knowledge. For this sort of malware, we can use anti-spyware tools, to protect and clean our system.
However, we are not talking about this kind of anti-spying tools and Windows is definitely (probably?) not malware. The tools we are referring to try to stop Windows from sending information to Microsoft, promising they can protect our privacy.
There are dozens of anti-spying programs that are easy to use and can manipulate Windows privacy settings, so as we will be "free" in a matter of a few clicks. Furthermore, we can choose which privacy settings to activate or deactivate.
Although most of these settings are already accessible through the Setting panel in Windows 10, Microsoft has scattered them around. We wouldn't need to play Sherlock Holmes if the settings were all in one place.
In this point of view, a privacy tool would save us a lot of time.
Do they cause problems?
However, these programs come with plenty of other privacy settings. They can block certain IPs in the "hosts" file, they edit registry keys, or they can permanently delete various Windows services.
As a result, they may cause some problems in the operating system.
Moreover, many anti-spying tools warn us that these changes are irreversible. In such cases, we would need a clean installation of Windows to fix any errors.
Still, if we can take our privacy back with a tool like that, it might be worth the risk, right?
Am I 100% safe with an anti-spying tool?
Unfortunately, the answer is "No." No program or tool can protect 100% of our personal data.
Many of them claim that they can deactivate telemetry, while the only thing they do is change it to "Basic".
Therefore, we are not going to list any of these tools. On the contrary, we will try to secure our personal data by changing the privacy settings through Windows.
In any case, if you want to use an anti-spying tool, make sure you have backed up all your data and proceed with caution for any privacy settings you activate or deactivate.
Privacy Settings in Windows
Since we can't completely avoid Microsoft's spying in Windows 10, we can either accept it or install a less nosey operating system.
A different operating system isn't always possible. Therefore, below you can find what settings you can change, so as to maximize the privacy of your personal data.
All settings refer to Creators Update, but you will find most of them in earlier Windows 10 versions.
In Creators Update, Microsoft has implemented a "Learn more" button below every setting. That way, we can tell what kind of personal data we send to Microsoft.
We can configure the majority of these options right after installing Windows 10, by clicking on the corresponding "Customize settings" field, instead of the more convenient "Use Express settings."
To access the privacy settings from Windows, we click on "Start > Settings"...
...and choose "Privacy."
In the General section, we can find three options, which are described here in detail.
- Every user has a unique advertising ID, which is used by apps to provide ads with relevant content. In other words, Microsoft knows our preferences and uses that info to shows us ads that we are more likely to click at. We should keep this feature disabled.
- Our second choice here has to do with our system's language. Windows can share information about our installed languages with various websites, so as to see content on our preferred language by default. This can be useful in some cases, so we can either activate or deactivate it.
- Going further down to the third option, Microsoft can track the apps we use the most, to show more frequently in Start. We find this option useless, and thus we disabled it.
As a bonus, in this tab we have access to some cloud settings. If we click on "Manage my info that's stored in the cloud"...
...our default browser takes us to more privacy settings about personalized ads. We can deactivate these settings, by clicking in the respective blocks.
At the end of this page, we have access to more choices.
Our browser will start a quick check about companies that support personalized ads.
We click on Continue.
If we don't want to allow any of these companies to show us personalized ads, we click on "Opt out of all."
In case some of our requests fail, we can hit "Try again."
These settings apply only on the browser you used. If you want to switch your browser, you will have to opt out again.
Next tab in privacy settings is the Location. Here you will find the necessary info.
Things are pretty simple with our location. If we use any apps that need to know where we are, we have to turn it on. Further below in the same panel, we can adjust the apps that are allowed to use our physical location.
In any other case, we can turn off the Location service.
Speech, inking, and typing
If you're using Cortana, then you probably want to leave this option on.
Here you can find all the necessary information about speech, inking, and typing privacy settings.
Feedback and diagnostics
According to Microsoft, in this tab, we are allowed to choose how much data our Windows installations is sending to their servers. Of course, there is no option to disable telemetry, so the best we can do is set it to "Basic".
Even with basic telemetry, Microsoft receives a lot of personal data. However, most of it has to do with diagnostics, errors, and system stability in general.
Further down we can disable Microsoft's tailored experiences.
Also, we can change the frequency in which Windows ask for feedback.
Feedback is necessary if you're a Microsoft Insider, but for the rest of us, pop-ups can be annoying.
Remaining privacy settings
All the other tabs contain privacy settings tied to specific devices and apps. In each of them, we can choose which apps will have access to devices and tasks.
For instance, in "Camera" we can turn on or off the access to our webcam, or shut down the feature altogether.
The same goes for Microphone, Notifications, Account Info, Contacts, Calendar, Call history, Email, Tasks, Messaging, Radios, Other devices, Background apps, and App diagnostics.
In Creators Update there is no way to disable Cortana - at least no official way through the Settings panel.
To change Cortana's permissions, we have to turn off access to each individual device and app, as described in the steps above.
If we are not interested in using Cortana, we should also turn off speech recognition from "Speech, inking, and typing".
To delete any personal info that Cortana has stored, select the search box, click on "Settings > Change what Cortana knows about me in the cloud", and hit "Clear".
At this point, we checked all the privacy settings and adjusted them to fit our needs. If we keep using a Microsoft account to log in though, all the trouble we went through would be a waste of time.
Fortunately, it is relatively easy to switch to a local account.
Simply go to Settings > Accounts. Click on "Sign in with a Microsoft account instead."
Type in your current password...
...and choose a name. In order for the change to take place, we have to sign out and back in.
Do you use any anti-spying programs on Windows 10;
What is your opinion on anti-spying tools? Do you prefer to adjust the privacy settings manually?
If you use third-party programs for privacy settings or you want to share any other options that help us keep our data safe, leave a comment below.
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