Windows 10, annoying ads & ultimate privacy setup


Updated: April 24, 2017

Recently, I've been reading how Microsoft has introduced annoying, intrusive ads all over Windows 10, including app suggestions in the menu, apps being installed without user request, all sorts of silly recommendations, and of course, ads inside applications, including Windows Explorer and the lock screen.

Never one to cry wolf without dressing up in a sheep's fleece, I fired up my test box, the Lenovo G50 machine running a multi-boot setup with Windows 10 and several Linux distros, and did a full update of the former. After the reboot, I examined my machine. It was pristine and unaffected. And that result prompted me to write this article. A brief discussion on these ads and whatnot, and then, a thorough list of actions that can help you achieve a quiet, productive setup in Windows 10. After me.

Teaser

More on Windows 10 advertising

We are seeing more and more the blurring between the desktop and the mobile world. All those things that work so well on the phone are utterly retarded in the classic desktop setup, hence the problems. The Clash of the Chromosomes.

I am extremely pleased with Windows Phone. It's an excellent choice of an operating system for mobile devices, and all the fine sub-100IQ nonsense like forced reboots, active hours and the rest all make sense there. Not so on the desktop. As a non-touch operating system, it's just average, no better than Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. Small improvements in security perhaps, and hardware support for newer platforms, but that's a given. Other than that, you're not really buying unicorn tears.

The downside of using Windows 10 is - it's designed to make money much more aggressively than previous versions. It's not just a passive enabler of functionality. Windows 10 is in-yer-face. This is why I've written several very long and detailed guides on privacy, which we will touch shortly, and elaborate on all the steps you need to take to tame Windows 10. But first, let's talk about ads.

I did not observe any of the problems mentioned above. That does not mean they do not exist, or not happen. It's just that MY system is configured in a smart way that prevents Windows 10 from doing naughty things. Hence, I believe it's a great baseline for avoiding stupidity. Of course, with all the limitations that such a setup requires.

After update, unchanged

Basic configuration - local user

The very first thing you want to do is - local user. If you do use a Microsoft account in Windows 10, you will be spared most of this online integration, including suggestions and recommendations and such. That's the first and most important thing you can do. The steps needed to make such a configuration are very similar to what I've outlined in a namesake tutorial for Windows 8.1 several years ago. Pay attention to the small print.

Local account

Even if you already have a Microsoft account - you can convert it to a local one, and vice versa. The whole process is entirely reversible. If you're unsure, you can create a second account, test, see what gives, and only then apply everything to your main account.

The local user is a good thing - it automatically disables lots of noisy services and apps, which would pester you if you were using a Microsoft account. But then, there's always room for additional tweaks.

Create new account

Pay attention and choose 'Sign in without a Microsoft account (not recommended)' at the bottom.

New user, local vs online

It is also very important to remember there's no reason to be afraid of setting specific options to OFF, like background apps or calendar sharing. These are only ever relevant if you use the Metro apps in Windows 10, which isn't very likely if you are: 1) using desktop 2) privacy conscious and annoyed by Windows 10 3) reading this guide. Last but not the least, you can always turn settings on if you notice something isn't working.

It is also important to mention that I'm not paranoid about security or privacy. I do not believe in the whole tinfoil hat nonsense. And I am usually not very keen on making system changes, because they can affect you long term. Therefore, the recommendations below are a sane, balanced mix between minimizing stupidity and maximizing convenience without making radical changes to Windows 10. You can tweak everything, but I do not suggest it.

Privacy settings

Open the new Settings menu. Set the following options - note, these are not ALL the options available, just the ones that affect privacy, security and intelligence. Pure cosmetic preferences are out of the scope here.

Settings

Almost all settings have per-app overrides.

Devices > Connected devices > Download over metered connections > OFF

Network & Internet > Wi-Fi > Wi-Fi Sense > Connect to suggested hotspots > OFF

Network & Internet > Wi-Fi > Wi-Fi Sense > Hotspot 2.0 networks > OFF

Personalization > Start > Occasionally show suggestions in Start > OFF

Personalization > Start > Use Start full screen > OFF

Privacy > General > Let apps use my advertising ID > OFF

Privacy > General > Send Microsoft info about how I write > OFF

Privacy > General > Let websites provide locally relevant content > OFF

Privacy > General > Let apps on my other devices open apps ... > OFF

Privacy > General > Let apps on my other devices use Bluetooth ... > OFF

Privacy > General > Manage my Microsoft advertising ...

This will open a browser and let you configure how you wish to receive ads. Now, the configuration is a little weird. It is applicable even if you do not use a Microsoft account, because some settings apply on per-browser level, and the settings are stored using cookies. Some options are only available if you're signed-in with a Microsoft account. In general, set all personalized ads toggles to OFF. If you cannot, ignore, because they are not applicable in any case. If you're using an adblocker, the settings are irrelevant any way.

Microsoft ads

Microsoft ads, personalized, details

Privacy > Location > OFF

Privacy > Camera > OFF unless you use VoIP clients & per-app settings

Privacy > Microphone > OFF unless as above

Privacy > Notifications > Let apps access my notifications > OFF

Privacy > Speech, inking & typing > OFF (N/A for local acc); if OFF, it turns off diction and Cortana as well (Cortana does not work with local accounts either). In general, with the local account, this whole section is not applicable.

Privacy, getting to know you

Privacy > Account info > Let apps access my name > OFF

Privacy > Contacts > Choose apps that can access contacts > Optional

Privacy > Calendar > Let apps access my calendar > OFF

Privacy > Call History > Let apps access my call history > OFF

Privacy > Email > Let apps access and read my email > OFF

Privacy > Messaging > Let apps read or send messages (text or MMS) > OFF

Privacy > Radios > Let apps control radios > OFF

Privacy > Other devices > Let your apps automatically share ... > OFF

Privacy > Feedback & diagnostics > Feedback frequency > NEVER

Privacy > Feedback & diagnostics > Diagnostics and usage data > Basic

Now, this can be further tweaked but not through the Settings menu. We will disable the relevant services very soon. Let's worked methodically. This is the first-level pass for what we need.

Privacy > Background apps > Choose which apps can ... > OFF

Background apps

Updates & Security > Windows Update > Choose how updates are delivered > Updates from more than one place > OFF

How updates are delivered

Other changes

Settings > Devices > AutoPlay > OFF

Microsoft Edge

Go to Settings > Advanced Settings > Privacy and Services

Offer to save passwords > Your choice

Send Do Not Track requests > OFF (but this is a useless settings really)

Use page prediction > OFF

Cortana options will be disabled anyway.

Services that need to be disabled

Connected User Experience and Telemetry

Set this to Disabled to prevent any diagnostics and usage data from being sent to Microsoft. The simplest option.

Tracking disabled

Windows Update

In the Home edition of Windows 10, you do not have the option to stop the system from updating itself and then annoying you with a reboot schedule. The only really sensible way to control this functionality is to disable the Windows Update service, and then enable it again when you need/want to update your system.

Windows Update service

Remove Store and/or apps

If you're not interested in using any Metro app, you can uninstall them. Now, this is not that critical, and the apps may be reinstalled whenever you get a new build. However, you can chuck them away if you're not pleased. Open Powershell as administrator and run the following command:

Get-AppxPackage -User <your user> | Remove-AppxPackage

Optional tweaks: Third-party software

There are several other tools you can use to harden your setup ever further. These tools allow access to options and configurations that are not present in the Settings menu. As such, they are inherently designed for advanced users, and they may break things. You may end up with something not working seven months from now, and never really know the issue may be related to a tiny little tweak you implemented through some program and then forgot about it.

Therefore, if you do want to use third-party tools, remember to 1) backup your system, including a full system image 2) carefully write down all the default options and your changes, so you can revert if needed.

You can also choose one program - or more. Most of the options are covered by all the listed software here, so there's a lot of common ground, but then they also nicely complement each other. They can also severely CLASH if you go wild. Therefore, you should proceed slowly, with one program at the time, or if you use them all, be very selective and gentle. Last but not the least, the software listed below also comes with varying levels of difficulty and aesthetics. 

Therefore, if you do want to use these programs, do note their common options and pre-selected defaults. It is possible that these tools may inaccurately report your settings, and/or suggest changes that undo some of the tweaks you had applied separately.

For any selected tweak, compare all three.

Apply the tweak, restart the system, compare all three again.

Exclude software with inaccurate and/or unpredictable results.

Choose the program with best coverage and UI for your taste. There's no 100% perfection.

If you want to use ALL three, follow the order below; make sure all your other settings match in all three programs; if you're looking for comparable tweaks among the three programs, you will need to carefully go through the sub-menus and settings and map the relevant changes. This guide does not go into those details.

If you want to use ONLY one, use Winaero Tweaker.

If you're asking me for a rough order of preference based on my testing, hunches and taste: 1) Winaero Tweaker 2) Ultimate Windows Tweaker 3) W10Privacy.

With all these warnings and disclaimers in mind ...

W10Privacy

Now, this was the first tweaker program we used to tame Windows 10. It's a little complicated, but it covers a lot of options. Again, without going through EVERY single feature, and without repeating what we already covered above, the following additional tweaks should be applied:

Privacy > Do not allow the use of the built in camera ...

Search > Do not let Microsoft collect and use information ...

Search > Do not search online and do not include Web results

Search > Disable the retrieve of Bing suggestions ...

W10Privacy

Image for illustration purpose only; captured while tweaking.

Ultimate Windows Tweaker

You should check my full guide on this too, and only then apply the following additional tweaks:

Security & Privacy > Privacy > Disable Telemetry

Security & Privacy > Privacy > Disable Application Telemetry

UWT, Security

UWT, privacy

Images for illustration purpose only; captured while tweaking.

Winaero Tweaker

Take a look at the complete software review & guide. Then, if you're happy, apply the following tweaks in addition to what we've discussed above.

Behavior > Disable App Lookup in Store

Behavior > Disable Reboot After Updates

Windows Apps > Auto-update Store apps > Set to disabled (check the box)

Winaero, reboot option

Image for illustration purpose only; captured while tweaking.

Excluded from this discussion

As you may have noticed, I did not list Windows Defender here, for instance. While I do not like or use the program, and I always have it disabled, its presence is not related to the annoyances and privacy nonsense in Windows 10.

More reading

Older articles, worth checking, just to get a little more perspective:

Windows 10 privacy

Windows 10 privacy guide

Conclusion

And that's about it. The list above should give you a fairly sane and healthy Windows 10 setup. Like I mentioned, I'm not keen on super paranoia, and I do not believe in ultimate privacy. The tweaks here are mostly focused on convenience and practicality. Mostly removing mobile-relevant things that were added after Windows 7.

I believe this setup works well. Proceed slowly. Test carefully. Start with what you can change through the settings menu and services. Once you're satisfied everything is dandy, apply the extra few tweaks if you want. Be careful, and make sure you can undo your changes if necessary. Enjoy your IQ100+ Windows 10 now. Fare well.

Cheers.

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