Updated: October 3, 2015
Let me begin by saying this: if you do not trust Microsoft, don't use its products. Simple. This is the basic premise of this guide. We're not here to discuss politics, NSA and such. If you think Windows is evil, this article isn't about how you can screw the system. That's not what I'm aiming for. Instead, if you want to be aware of the privacy tweaks and options and some extra security features, and you wish to change them to your liking, then this tutorial could help you get the right results.
So remember, we're not trying to double-cross a double agent, we're not working under the premise there's a rogue operating system under the hood. I leave this to the rest of the Web and its drama moments. We're here to learn about Windows 10 privacy and adjust it to our needs. You will get my personal perspective as a baseline. Now, read on.
We did talk about Windows 10 in the past. We had the article on Windows 10 keylogging, which caused quite a bit of stir, and I sure will follow up with another generic article on the Customer Experience Improvement Program in the future. Then, we also had my first guide on Windows 10 privacy, mostly around Cortana, generic Bing search and related.
If you've read my Windows 10 upgrade guide and awesome review, then you will have noticed things have improved slightly. If you don't want generic ad-spiced searches, they won't show up, and that's a good thing. So the importance of making them go away has become less. Then, there are more tweaks and settings than in the preview builds. Now, we will walk through them, one by one, and then some.
This is a hot cake. What it does, and it's not a new thing, it lets your contacts, presumably friends, be able to use your network connection if their registered devices show up in your radius. How so? Windows 10 shares the password hash for your router and whatnot with these contacts. For most people, this sounds ominous, and there's the question of potential security breaches.
If you ask me, then you shouldn't be using this, for the simple reason that you shouldn't let anyone use your connection unless you want to explicitly let them do so. A matter of control, as well as basic logic. If a friends needs your Internet, you can let them have it. The world is not going to collapse if they can't have it right there when they come over to you. And it sure isn't about hacking. No one will squat outside your house window and download pr0n over your Wi-Fi.
You can turn this thing off easily. Under Settings, Wi-Fi, for your Wireless adapter, which will probably read this or that SSID of your router, click on the Manage Wi-Fi Settings option. Then, you can tweak Wi-Fi Sense.
If you're using a local account, problem solved! If you're using an online account, you can still choose not to connect to open hotspots and not share passwords with your contacts. Especially since you shouldn't be having any contacts or social networks. Friends are too precious to put down in a list.
A whole menu controls privacy options. Here, you have the chance to really fine tune your system. Especially if you are using a local account, because most of the settings are only valid for online accounts.
You can decide whether apps can use your ad ID, a unique identifier in between resets, use a filter for URLs, which means your pr0n searches are also screened, send feedback on your writing and typing, which again means your pr0n searches are anonymously used, and finally, let website serve localized content, which means ads, based on your language.
You can also log in into your Microsoft account online and tune the advertisement options, as I've shown you in the previous guide. But this is mostly relevant for an online account setup.
You probably want to turn it off. With local accounts, it's irrelevant anyhow.
Another one to consider. Off most likely, unless you explicitly need it. In fact, browsers shouldn't be there. In Firefox and Chrome, you can control the plugins as you need them, when you need them, no reason to have system-wide camera options.
And the microphone smells like beer, and they put Bing in my jar, and feed me with fear, and say man what are you doing here. So another no. You choose, though.
This one relates to Cortana, the voice assistant, but not only. We'll discuss Cortana some more soon. But if you don't want your voice AND writing used in any way, then off. This function also affects your calendar events, contacts, and more.
What makes this settings tricky is that there's no explicit On/Off in this menu. You will need to change it separately. Moreover, it begs the question, if you've disabled camera and microphone and feedback options earlier, what happens here? Turns the other settings back on? Or you have the functionality, but it does nothing? Furthermore, the Get to Know me thing means it's off, and if you want to use it, then you will have to setup a Microsoft account and use the correct regional and language settings. We will discuss this some more soon enough. This is a confusing one, so pay attention.
Do you want apps to use your info? Yes, no? No for me. Besides, Metro or Modern apps or whatever you want to call them are still utterly and totally useless in every way, and there's no reason to use them. Desktop apps are a million times more superior.
Why would the shell be able to access contacts? Beats me. Off.
Not much to say. Off.
Another setting with a dubious meaning. If I allows apps to read my text messages and such, but I do not allow typing and writing, then isn't this a paradox in a way? This means my text will still be captured by apps, no. When in doubt, turn it off. Besides, sending SMS using my laptop seems like a difficult feat.
Look at that wording. Apps need to be able to turn radios on and off to work their magic. What magic? Actually yes! Modern apps are pointless, so the art of deception and illusion definitely falls into this category. Off.
Do you want to sync your stuff with other computers? Does this even work without a Microsoft account?
Feedback & diagnostics
This caused quite a stir in the past. Now, you can reduce the level of data tracking but not quite eliminate it using the settings menu. Your best option, similar to what we did with Windows Updates in the review, is to disable the service. Plain and simple.
No reason to have all this junk polluting all that fine memory. If and when needed, I will launch programs myself, and I certainly do not need tacky, oversized Modern apps to cramp my style. Desktop programs, all the way. As a bonus, you should run Autoruns, and then purge some more nonsense from your startup entries.
Cortana & Web results
Not all settings lurk in that Privacy menu. If you want to tweak Cortana, then you need to do it separately. Search through the main menu for Cortana, then adjust the options as you like. In my case, Cortana is off for two reasons: 1) I've chosen a country and language that do not conform to the corporate vision, even though the language is EN-US, and I'm quite glad for this restriction 2) Local account! 3) Off would have been my preference anyhow.
Still, sneaky sneaky, you can search online and add Web results when you do that. You should disable this. There's this thing called browser, and you can use that to search online, and we're back to Bing searches and filters. That's sub-100 IQ material right there, best avoided.
We're going back to accounts. Local is what I recommend. If you read the Microsoft description, they will tell you that Windows is better when my settings and whatnot automatically sync. Pardon me, how is it better? Does it work faster? Is it more reliable? Does it generate money for me in some way? Please don't give me this sub-100 IQ language. I know you need to sell to morons, but have some dignity please.
It's On by default, turn it off.
Windows updates from more than one place
Windows 10 uses P2P to grab updates from other systems on the network. In other words, rather than tolling Microsoft servers, it can use someone else's bandwidth to get you the updates. This is a big no. You want your updates only to come from the one and only official source. And then there's the whole automatic update thingie, which we already discussed.
The new browser. It's pointless. Don't use it. If you must, then some of the settings you should consider include: passwords, do not track requests, as if that makes any difference, page prediction, smart filtering, again, and media licenses. Overall, a very small subset compared to the rest.
By default, Explorer shows Quick Access as the default location, with the recent files shown in the bottom half. Unhealthy, if you've just consumed some pr0n, so you might want to disable the recent files. The same applies to folders.
You can choose what shows up in the system menu. Some of the things may have a slight privacy impact on you, depending what kind of things you're running, and what kind of files you're opening. You'll find the sub-menu in the Settings window.
Not strictly privacy, but it does touch on it. Anyhow, you really don't need much to maintain a safe and practical setup. The most important thing is, data backups. Then, if you feel like you need security software, you're wasting your time, which is why Windows Defender is unnecessary, and which is why I had it removed in my earlier review.
Use a normal browser, i.e. not Edge, and have EMET installed, and you should be OK on the software side. Then, let's not forget your online habits. If you download random stuff like mad and not really question anything you do or something other people may send you, then, in the long run, nothing will help you. Because if you want to do, you will do it, and it comes to the person running the system. Ergo, all the scare and drama in the tech industry is just pointless clickbait.
Here's a jolly useful forum post on solving Windows 10 problems. Covers quite a bit on the privacy, security and convenience fronts, too, so you might as well take a look.
Windows 10 and Privacy on ghacks.net
How to disable data logging in Windows 10
There you go. This is a fairly long tutorial that covers the most critical bits and pieces related to the Windows 10 privacy, with just some extras on personalization and security. Overall, there's far more stuff to pay attention to compared to previous versions, and more focus on online integration, so keep an eye open. All that said, you still get better privacy and more granularity than some other mobile-oriented companies.
The main focus is around online versus local account, the use of your typing, writing and searches, and the Cortana assistant. Wi-Fi and bandwidth bleed are another big concern. Then, there are some other tweaks, which are more or less applicable to all Windows versions. All in all, hopefully, your Windows 10 is now a tad more quiet and sane. And while I do not find any compelling reason to use it, as it brings nothing of cardinal value to the table, I will keep testing and providing useful solutions. For you, this guide might be just what you need. See you around.
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