What you need to know to protect your privacy in Windows 10

Windows 10 is here and for the first year it is a free upgrade for anyone running a legitimate copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8.

But there’s a saying that applies: if the product is free, you are the product.

Windows 10 includes some potentially invasive new features which could result in a great deal of information being transmitted to Microsoft, for advertising and other purposes. One of the first things you’re going to want to do is delve into the settings and check this out to decide which, if any of it, you want to leave enabled.

Installing Windows 10

During the Windows 10 installation process you’ll come to a step where you can choose to continue with ‘Express settings’ or customise some of the options. To save time you should hit Customise at this point and tweak the privacy settings before you’re even on the desktop.

These options can be changed any time so don’t worry if you want to do something later or you’ve already installed Win 10 with the default settings.

For fresh installations of Windows 10 you’ll also need to create a user, and Microsoft would really prefer it if you made a Microsoft Account so all your personal data is linked to that login. If you like the idea of easily sharing and syncing settings across devices this can be useful but for the strongest privacy you can skip it and just create a regular Windows user account.

During the setup you’ll be prompted to either login with an existing Microsoft account or create a new user account. Click Create a new account then Sign in without a Microsoft account and follow the prompts to make a normal Windows login.

Windows 10 privacy options

To access most of what we’re interested in you’ll need to head into the Settings menu. Either click Start > Settings or press Win+S and type Settings.

Once in Settings go to Privacy. You’ll find a choice of sections down the left which can be used to navigate the various privacy options.

It’s important to note that these privacy features aren’t just here to spy on what you’re up to, they are actually integral to some functions, but it’s likely that many average desktop users are not going to need or want most of these anyway so you’re not going to miss out. In most cases you can switch everything off and just allow individual applications access when required.

General

This contains the key settings. You’ll probably want to switch everything here Off. SmartScreen Filter seems vaguely useful, but URL filtering is already provided by web browsers and security software so this adds little except providing a record of what sites you’re visiting to Microsoft.

Location

Tracks your location and provides this info to applications. Switch this off unless you’ve got a specific app that needs access, in which case you can toggle it using the app controls further down the page.

There’s an odd bit of UI design here. To re-enable Location tracking click Change and it pops up a switch that’s identical to the greyed out switch underneath.

Camera

If you use video calling on Skype or other messaging tools you’ll need this enabled, but use the ‘choose apps that can use your camera’ options to toggle access only for specific software.

Microphone

You’ll need this on to use your microphone but like the camera settings you might want to enable it only for specific applications.

Speech, inking & typing

Windows 10 would like to get to know you. It would like to know what you’re typing and saying, and send this all off to Microsoft.

By switching this off you’ll lose access to Cortana, the new Siri/Google Now style assistant. Up to you whether that’s important, but we would probably recommend doing without as it could collect an extremely large amount of personal data. Keep in mind that speech recognition recordings are analysed by actual people.

If it’s enabled click Stop getting to know me. After that, click the Go to Bing link. Login with a Microsoft account and click the Clear buttons to wipe any data that’s been stored.

Account Info

Let’s apps access ‘name, picture and other account info’. It’s another one to disable unless you’ve got a specific reason to enable access for an application.

Contacts

Controls which apps can see your contacts. Unlike most of the other options you cannot disable this completely, only toggle it for each application. Most likely you’ll want to give access to an email tool, but again we’d be cautious and switch it all off unless something stops working.

Calendar

Controls which applications can see the data stored in the Windows 10 calendar. Switch this off unless an application needs it, then you should toggle it on a per-app basis.

Messaging

If you use a Windows 10 device to send or receive text messages this controls whether apps can see said messages. This won’t apply to your average desktop or laptop user and anyone with a Win 10 mobile device will be best off controlling it for each application.

Radios

Gives applications access to Bluetooth and other radios (such as Wi-Fi). Switching this off does not disable Bluetooth, so toggle it Off unless you’ve got an app like Skype that needs to communicate with Bluetooth hardware.

Other devices

Shares data with other devices (such as Microsoft’s strange example of ‘beacons’). Switch it all Off or click Choose apps to configure individual access.

Feedback & Diagnostics

Unless you want to be bothered with popups asking for your opinion on Windows 10, choose Never from the Feedback Frequency menu.

The Diagnostic and usage data option is worth noting. This controls what data Windows 10 records about your system for Microsoft to collect, with a choice of ‘Basic’, ‘Enhanced’ and ‘Full’ settings.

Click Learn more and you can see a breakdown of what each means, including the revelation that selecting ‘Full’ not only gathers up information about your software, hardware and usage, but may “unintentionally include parts of a document you were working on when a problem occurred”. We’d recommend just sticking with Basic.

Background apps

Switch everything here off unless you have an application which definitely needs to be running in the background. Laptop users in particular will want to do this to save some battery power.

Other privacy options

Once you’ve finished going through the Privacy settings there’s a couple of other things to check.

Back in the General section click Manage my Microsoft advertising. This takes you to a web page where you can control some ad related privacy features. Click Choose to toggle the advertising options.

Next, click the Search icon in the Windows 10 taskbar and then press the gear icon on the left side. Here you can toggle Cortana on and off. While it’s a fun little gimmick Cortana demands a great deal of information, so we’d recommend just disabling it and controlling your PC the old fashioned way.

Underneath the Cortana toggle is a Bing search control. Switch that off to prevent Bing from providing suggestions based on your browsing behaviour.

Windows Update Delivery Optimization

One final tip that's important for anyone who uses mobile broadband or has a broadband package with limited data allowance.

Go to Settings > Update & security > Advanced Options > Choose how updates are delivered.

The option 'Updates from more than one place' controls peer-to-peer networking for Windows updates, which Microsoft has dubbed Windows Update Delivery Optimization (WUDO).

It's a method of distributing updates by sharing the load between users, but it also consumes your bandwidth to do it so could impact anyone with a limited data usage cap and affect speed, particularly on mobile broadband. It won't matter much for unlimited fibre or cable home broadband, but everyone else should switch it off.

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