September 17, 2021 - Blog
Windows 10 privacy five important settings to change
Two days after its official release, Windows 10 was installed on 67 million PCs according to an anonymous Microsoft source. While the number has not been confirmed by Microsoft, it is in keeping with the company’s goal of having Windows 10 installed on a billion devices in the next three years. Currently 1.5 billion users worldwide have some version of Windows installed and those that opt for a free upgrade to Windows 10 will be affected by the new OS and its privacy policies.
Most of the privacy settings in question can be changed during the installation process. On the installation screen, instead of “Use Express Settings” click on “Customise settings.” The first page allows you to change personalization, targeted advertising and location tracking. The second page has options for predictive web browsing, automatically connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots, and the Wi-Fi Sense feature – turn off the features you find intrusive in these two pages.
During installation, Windows 10 also prompts you to create a Microsoft account. A Microsoft account, combined with Windows 10, could allow Microsoft to track more user information than if you had a local account. Furthermore, according to Microsoft, “If you received your Microsoft account from a third party, like an Internet service provider, that third party may have rights over your account, including the ability to access or delete your Microsoft account.” To help protect privacy, you can create a local user account. When Windows 10 asks you for your Microsoft account credentials, click “Create new account” and then “Sign in without a Microsoft account.”
Microsoft gives each Windows 10 user their own advertising ID, a unique identifier allowing the company and its advertising partners to target ads towards specific users. The company claims that the ID is not linked with your name, email address, or other personal information. If you access the Settings from the Start Menu and select Privacy you can review the default privacy settings. To stop Microsoft and its advertisers from receiving your user information, under Privacy, next to the option “Let apps use my advertising ID for experience across apps,” move the slider to Off.
Using Windows 10 and Microsoft’s new Edge internet browser, click on this link to access Microsoft’s personalized ad preferences page. Set the “Personalised ads in this browser” as well as the “Personalized ads whenever I use my Microsoft account,” to Off to disable Microsoft’s user tracking system.
Cortana is the Siri-like Windows 10 search assistant. This feature gathers your location, contacts, speech and handwriting data, stores them locally on your computer and uploads the information to Microsoft’s servers. According to Microsoft, “all data sent from Cortana to Microsoft is encrypted in transit and we store the personal information you provide on computer systems that have limited access and are in controlled facilities.”
If the functionality of Cortana is outweighed by a potential loss of privacy, you can disable the feature: Hit the Start button, start typing to open the search feature, and select the cog icon to open Cortana’s settings. Under Settings, turn the first toggle switch to ‘Off.’ You can also limit some of Cortana’s features within this window without turning it off completely.
On its default setting, Windows 10 Wi-Fi Sense automatically connects you to open networks which have been crowdsourced from other Windows users, typically public routers that don’t require login credentials. It will also connect you to Wi-Fi networks that your Facebook friends, Outlook and Skype contacts have shared. Additionally, it gives you the option of sharing login credentials when you connect to a new router or to a previously saved wireless network, encrypting the credentials and uploading them to Microsoft’s servers over an encrypted connection. Microsoft then distributes these login credentials to your contacts who are running Windows 10 and have shared access to at least one Wi-Fi network in the past.
To disable Wi-Fi Sense, click the Start button in the lower left-hand corner and go to Settings. Go to Network & Internet > Wi-Fi and scroll down to select Manage Wi-Fi Settings. Under “Connect to suggested open hotspots” and “Connect to networks shared by my contacts” toggle the switch to Off. On the following screen, under “Connect to Suggested Open Hotspots” set the switch to Off to disable automatic connections. Go to “Connect to Networks Shared by my Contacts” and set it to Off as well.
To ensure login credentials to your network are not shared by Wi-Fi Sense, connect directly to your router through an Ethernet cable, enter the address for the router’s configuration page, then enter your credential information. On the router configuration page, add the phrase “_optout” to the network name. For example, a network called “Lavasoft_optout” would not be utilized by the Wi-Fi Sense application.
Windows Update Delivery Optimization
Another feature that has caused some controversy is the Windows Update Delivery Optimization. The feature is intended to use computers running Windows 10 as part of a peer-to-peer network so that Windows updates can be downloaded from other Windows users, distributing the files across multiple sources. Windows will “send parts of those files to other PCs on your local network or PCs on the Internet that are downloading the same files,” states the WUDO FAQ. The feature has the potential to utilize your bandwidth and slow down existing internet services and it is turned on in the new Windows by default. While it doesn’t pose an obvious risk to your privacy, it might cause users to exceed their bandwidth limit, making it potentially intrusive and problematic. To turn Delivery Optimization Off:
Go to the Start button icon, then Settings > Update & security > Windows Update and select Advanced options.
On the Advanced options page, select “Choose how updates are delivered” and use the toggle switch to turn Delivery Optimization to Off or restrict this feature to PCs on your network. When the feature is turned off, you'll still get updates from Windows Update and from the Windows Store but your computer and home network won’t be used to distribute them to other users.
As Microsoft expects one billion users to install Windows 10 in the next three years, optimizing the operating system’s privacy and security features will be an ongoing process. Addressing the above privacy and security settings will help you customize the new Windows and control the amount of information you share with Microsoft and advertisers.