Windows 10 and your privacy

Aug 3, 2015   //   by nick   //   Blog, Microsoft Windows  //  No Comments

The rollout of a new Microsoft OS is always exciting, especially to those of us in the technology sector. On average techies spend a minimum of 8-10 of every day engrossed in technical jargon. Whether we are troubleshooting slow computers, tracking down data security threats, backing up data to the cloud or helping folks and businesses select the most suitable technology for their unique needs we techies have our hands in it all day long everyday.

I arrived on the tech scene in the mid 90’s when windows 3.x was in full swing and Windows 95 out and about. My college certification exams were filled with DOS command questions, manual IRQ assignment and ohms, volts and measuring current across a circuit. Technology has matured a great deal since then and along the way I have taken many updated certification exams. With every new OS that has been published we have been presented with a more robust platform, an improved user experience and added layers of security. To the point of added security there is also one more thing that needs to be mentioned and that is privacy. In order for your system to be more secure your privacy needs to be minimized so that Microsoft can help protect you and also its product.

Actually, here’s one excerpt from Microsoft’s privacy statement:

Finally, we will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary to: 1.comply with applicable law or respond to valid legal process, including from law enforcement or other government agencies; 2.protect our customers, for example to prevent spam or attempts to defraud users of the services, or to help prevent the loss of life or serious injury of anyone; 3.operate and maintain the security of our services, including to prevent or stop an attack on our computer systems or networks; or 4.protect the rights or property of Microsoft, including enforcing the terms governing the use of the services – however, if we receive information indicating that someone is using our services to traffic in stolen intellectual or physical property of Microsoft, we will not inspect a customer’s private content ourselves, but we may refer the matter to law enforcement.

If that sentence sent shivers down your spine, don’t worry. As invasive as it is, Microsoft does allow Windows 10 users to opt out of all of the features that might be considered invasions of privacy. Of course, users are opted in by default, which is more than a little disconcerting, but let’s focus on the solution. Rockpapershot has broken it down for us below.

1. Go to Settings – Privacy and go through the 13 different screens there and turn anything which concerns you to off. The biggest, most universal settings are under ‘General’, while the other screens let you choose which apps can and can’t access your calendar, messages, camera, mic, etcetera. There may well be stuff you want to leave on – for instance, I do actually want Windows’ Calendar app to access my calendar data (obv), I just don’t want it to sell that data on because I don’t want to be bombarded with flower ads when it’s my mum’s birthday.

2. Depending on whether you’ve been finding it useful or not, you may want to go to Cortana’s settings and turn off everything there. It’s just working as a basic file search for me now, as I didn’t want its ‘suggestions’, I didn’t want it to lock me into Bing and I didn’t want a tiny part of my processor to be forever dedicated to listening out for voice commands I will never use.

3. This is the crucial one, and so fundamental to Windows 10’s tracking that Microsoft have stuck the setting on an external website, which they say is so that it’s on one easy dashboard, but I find it hard not to wonder if it’s in the hope that we don’t easily stumble across it while browsing Windows 10’s own Privacy menus. Said website is colourful and cheerful and can play a video at you talking about how wonderful targeted advertising is. Ignore the bumf and instead go directly here and set both options to Off. It’s the innocuous-sounding “Personalised ads wherever I use my Microsoft account” which is the likely root of all this, because having that on means Windows 10 itself becomes a hub for targeted ads. You’ll probably have set up Windows 10 with a Microsoft account, because it heavily encourages you to do so with talk of synchronised files and settings and a OneDrive cloud account during installation, but this means the OS is signed into that account all the time. As a result, Windows 10 itself has it spyglasses on, not just apps or pages that you’re signed into with your MS account.

I notice that every time I go back to that page, the “Personalised ads in this browser” setting has silently turned itself back on again. This is concerning, but I’m not yet sure if it’s a bug or if it’s exploiting sessions as an excuse to reset regularly. Judicious ad and cookie control with your plugins and browser options of choice can change this, however. Again, do remember that many websites are dependent on advertising revenue to survive, but opting out of targeted advertising – and having that opt out be respected – is another matter entirely.

4. You may also wish to remove your Microsoft account from Windows 10 and use a local account instead. This will double-down on restricting what’s harvested, though you’ll lose out on features such as settings synchronisation across all your PCs and will suffer more nagging from stuff like the Windows Store and OneDrive. Probably not a big deal for many people, I suspect. Go to Settings – Accounts – Your Account within Windows 10 (or just type ‘Accounts’ into haha Cortana) to get to the relevant options.

If you have multiple PCs already running Windows 10 you’ll need to do all of this on each of them, although your Microsoft account opt-out should be universal.

None of these options mean you’ll see fewer ads, but they do mean that not quite so much information about you will be gathered and sold, and also that the ads you do see won’t be ‘relevant’ to what algorithms have decided your interests are. It is worth noting that some folk find the latter to be preferable to entirely irrelevant ads, and in some cases even useful – but certainly not everyone. Hopefully you can use the information here to make an informed choice about what happens. Again, in many respects it’s not wildly different from what already happens on your smartphone or your browser, but it’s important that you should know about it, and that Windows now has something of an ulterior motive.

 

 

 

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