Updated: April 14, 2015
Windows 10 has been making a lot of headlines recently, and it's even made me write some half a dozen articles, discussing all sorts of features, options, problems, and such. One of the notable topics is privacy, and with Cortana in your desktop, it becomes sort of a hot cake. So how do you handle all the fuzz?
In this article, I will outline some basic tips to how you can manage your privacy in a pretty sane manner. You won't solve worldwide intelligence crisis, or the fact some if not most products are designed to milk money out of morons, but you might just make your desktop experience bearable. We talked about the keylogging nonsense, and now we tackle the security of your shit. Your privacy, I mean. Follow me, most dear readers.
Local versus online account
Your first consideration should be - local versus online. If you go local, you save yourselves all the trouble, but then, you cannot use Cortana. If you decide to use an online account, then you will have to configure the right privacy settings.
Your AI assistant can be configured to call you by your name, delete tracking info for sensitive data, and more. You can also personalize Bing searches and advertisement, but more about that in a jiffy.
Once you have configured Cortana, you may also decide to use its voice command feature. To this end, you will need a microphone, and allow applications to use it. If you do not, then you will be shown a 'Cortana can't listen' error. You can tweak privacy settings in the system menu. You can also change the values on/off as you see fit. It works as advertised.
Search settings & advertisement personalization
You can turn the Search Box completely off, if you want. This means the search will now show up as a pop down option in the main menu, and this is ugly, because the search box will obstruct your icons. No screenshot for this, but trust me.
Ideally, the search box, if and when used, should look like this:
However, if you turn Cortana off, then you will end up with popular crap that comes from Bing in the form of personalized ads. Right there, you will get probed by aliens. This is pointless on the desktop, plus stupid.
You can change the way personalized ads are shown - although the option does not really work in the preview build. Nevertheless, it is important to mention the settings, so you can change them if and when they become relevant. It's the second option in the Cortana settings view, which reads: Manage my Microsoft advertising and other personalization info. This opens a web page.
Inside the browser, select the purple rectangle that reads Choose. Then, you can opt out of any ads in your browser and elsewhere. This is the first step to purging crap from your system.
Disable Web search through group policies
You may also want to use a more stringent method. Group policies. This cool utility can help you fine-tune the system behavior behind the curtains, so that no matter what, you won't see any stupidity in the menus, options and the software you use. Again, during the beta testing, this may not work.
Notably, we want to disable Web search. There are three options that control this functionality. First, launch the Group Policy editor with gpedit.msc. Then, navigate to:
Computer Configuration->Administrative Templates->Windows Components->Search
You then want to Enable the policy for:
- Do not allow web search
- Don't search the web or display web results in Search
- Don't search the web or display web results in Search over metered connections
Best privacy set
In the end, nothing beats Classic Shell on a local account:
This is all you need to know about Windows 10 search and privacy. It sounds ominous, but the thing is, you have a lot more leeway and choice than most other commercial products out there. You can use a local account or an online account, you can disable search and tracking, and you can deny apps access to your camera and microphone. Lastly, you can use group policies to lock it all down.
You may lose some functionality, and the current preview build has been designed to be as open as possible, which is why some things may look a little weird when you disable some of the features, and the Classic Shell thingie is the obvious answer to that, with its associated challenges. But in the end, there's nothing sinister about Windows 10. It just does its things in a slightly different yet ever so corporate way. But at least, it can be tamed, and you have the option to stay off the stupidity grid. There.