Windows: The “Un-Private” Operating System

Ever had someone tell you “oh dear, I would never gossip about you to all your friends!” Only to find out they lied and talked about you behind your back? Yeah. That’s Microsoft’s Windows 10.

While in many ways Windows 10 is in fact the best Windows to date as far as security, there is a difference between security and privacy. Windows has become so extremely pervasive about data mining and attempting to convince users they MUST join every aspect of the Microsoft ecosystem, that you have to trick Windows into thinking you’re a dinosaur to get around giving up your firstborn (metaphorically speaking) while setting up a new Windows device. That said, here are a few specific things you can do even on an existing Windows computer to increase your privacy and security while keeping the user experience the same as you’re used to!

Head to your start menu, and click the gear icon for settings. Click on “Privacy” and check out these settings….

  • General: All of these items can be turned off (advertising ID, language list, Windows app launch tracking and suggested content). They aren’t necessary as your language will be determined already during setup and you don’t need Microsoft’s advertising ID to get targeted ads, companies will take care of that already
  • Speech Recognition: can be turned off unless you use Cortana (side note: don’t use Cortana, she’s a privacy nightmare).
  • Inking and Typing Personalization: Definitely turn this off! This sends every keystroke to Microsoft to build a personalized database of your writing patterns. Highly invasive.
  • Diagnostics & Feedback: Set this to “required diagnostic data” to keep excess data like your browsing history and what apps you use from being sent. Also, turn off “Tailored Experiences” for the same reason.
  • Activity History: You can safely disable both “Store my history…” and “Send my activity…”. Usually the pick up where you left off features don’t work altogether that well on Microsoft between devices so turning these off will reduce your tracking footprint. Only enable them if you need handoff (like between a work laptop and desktop).
  • Radios: Turn off “Allow apps to control device radios”. You can already control these manually through Notification Center.
  • Other Devices: Turn off the “communicate with unpaired devices” to keep your computer from attempting to auto-share data with devices you haven’t explicitly authorized.

Although this will not completely and totally protect you from tracking and analytics data being collected, it’s a great start and should be standard procedure on every Windows computer. Oh… And ignore those Windows prompts about needing to protect yourself by signing into a Microsoft account. It’s unnecessary and won’t help you except keeping you locked to Microsoft services.

If you really want to lower your footprint, try Ubuntu Linux! There are open source versions of all the programs you’re familiar with, such as Thunderbird replacing Microsoft outlook, and the Libre office suite replacing the Microsoft office suite (Check out our post in choosing the best services or finding alternatives here). If you’re not ready yet ready to make that leap though, following the steps above will give you a little more peace of mind and help you to rid yourself of the nosy electronic neighbor’s intentional snooping!

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