In July, 2015, Microsoft released its “final” version of Windows: 10. Claiming it will change how its software is delivered in the future and offering an upgrade to existing customers for free (at least for a year), Microsoft seems to have thought things through thoroughly. The question is, have you?
With cool new features, such as Cortana and developer access to a uniform system to create apps on, Windows 10 certainly has a lot to offer (especially for free). If you’ve already upgraded, great, but that also means that time is nearly up to change your mind. Windows 10 offers the ability to “downgrade” to your previous version if you decide you don’t like it, but only for one month.
Still, what’s not to like? With a sharper, more modern interface and faster overall load times, Windows 10 is looking pretty good. The problem, however, lies in whether or not you have a vested interest in your privacy. All these new features come with a trade-off: Microsoft, like other companies, wants to record more of what you’re doing.
So what can be done?
Regrettably the shiniest, most toted feature of Windows 10 is Cortana. By having Cortana enabled, you give Microsoft permission to record your voice, your typing, view your contacts, your calendars, and monitor your internet traffic. She can even read your emails, and I don’t mean dictation.
Fortunately, Cortana does have certain options to turn on and off. If you go to Cortana’s Notebook and access Settings, you can control what apps she has access to and what data she syncs with the cloud service. You can even delete everything Cortana has collected about you, resetting her effectively to default.
To Microsoft’s credit, they allow you to not only delete information Cortana has stored about you on your device, but also the data stored in their servers. They are very open about what uses Cortana has for your information (hopefully they’re being honest) and why it may be required for her to work.
That said, much of what Cortana does can still be done manually, including searching for things on the net and handling your contacts and calendar events. For the most secure results, you can always switch Cortana off, and it’s recommended that you do so if privacy is your number one concern. The setting stays, so you won’t have to do it more than once unless you decide to try her out again.
Perhaps the most promising thing about Windows 10 is the ease of access to its settings. On the bottom right of your task bar (if you’re using PC Windows), there’s a little message bubble that takes you to Notifications, where you can access All Settings.
From here, there’s a whole section devoted to your privacy, appropriately called Privacy. Under this section, there are numerous options, a few of which are worth addressing, while others aren’t as important. We’ll take a look at each section to see what’s relevant.
- Account info
- Other devices
- Feedback & Diagnostics
- Background apps
Under General, the only setting you should have turned on is the SmartScreen Filter; everything else is just providing additional information that should really be kept private as much as possible.
Location settings are something you may need to turn on and off occasionally, but unless you’re using GPS, they should generally be turned off. Do note that if you’re using Cortana, these settings must be enabled or she won’t work.
Under the Camera settings, you can adjust which apps are allowed to access your camera. On your mobile, you’ll probably have this turned on, as several apps do need access to your camera to function. On your home computer, this isn’t as often the case; you’ll need to decide when it’s appropriate, but at least there’s a handy list of apps you can turn on and off.
Another section that Cortana requires is the Microphone. Not many apps need access to your microphone to function, but there are bound to be a few. Enable and disable only the apps you trust; otherwise leave it turned off.
Like Cortana, plenty of apps want access to your contacts. They aren’t always malicious, but you’re better off disabling Contacts for any apps you don’t totally trust.
Though I don’t personally use the Calendar, some people prefer keeping their plans highly organized and dated. If you’d prefer to keep your schedule to yourself, disable this to keep apps from accessing it (but again, you’re going to lose some functionality).
Unless there’s a really compelling app or you hardly use texts or MMS, you’d do well to keep this section disabled. There are probably legitimate reasons for an app to read your texts, but since we’re focused on privacy, you’ll want this turned off.
The Radios settings address the use of tools such as Bluetooth and are mostly okay to have turned on. If you’re in an unfamiliar area and carrying important data, you can consider preventing apps from controlling your radios, but remember that those apps won’t work properly.
Naturally any section with “other” in its title kind of leaves things open. Under the first section on Syncing, it’s probably a good idea to have this off in public places, but it’s likely useful at home. Since anything could be under this section, you’ll have to read closely which devices are interfacing with yours.
You can’t really disable anything here other than whether or not to ask for your feedback, and it doesn’t seem as if there’s any real reason to anyway. Big companies do actually need feedback to know if their products are working well.
Turning off background apps is mostly for power saving; if you’re plugged in or at a home computer, you can leave most of these on (unless you don’t use them).
It’s hard to make any blanket statement about privacy in Windows 10, as plenty of other services are logging your information just as intently as Microsoft. If you want to maintain your anonymity, you’ll need to deal with outside parties too.
Considering setting up a VPN (Virtual Private Network) through Windows or acquiring a third-party service, such as ExpressVPN. A VPN allows you to use the rest of the internet anonymously by encrypting your connection and routing it through a remote server. Though it won’t likely prevent Microsoft from gathering your info, it helps against websites and hackers trying to keep tabs on who and where you are.
Caroline B.: I’d like to mention how grateful I am that TodaysWeb.net has decided to share my article on their website. Their page is a great resource for staying up to date on the latest social media, marketing, and business news. I would especially recommend that you check out this article listing 70 of the most useful websites.