Increase your privacy in Windows 10

Windows 10 Security Guide > Increase your privacy

Privacy is an important issue and you don’t want personal information about you, your interests or your activities in Windows 10 or online to be shared with people that don’t need it, who would share it with others, or misuse it.

Windows 10 Security guide

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Your computer probably contains a lot of personal information about you, such as your name, address and telephone number, the websites you have visited, which apps you have installed, what topics you are interested in and so on.

There may be information about your bank,credit cards, where you live or are currently located, the goods you bought over the internet, and so on.

Some of the personal information about you that is stored on your computer or in your web browser is more private than others.

For example, you wouldn’t want your credit card number to be revealed, but you might not worry if people know your favourite sports team’s website.

There are many settings in Windows 10 that enable you to increase your privacy and we will look at these and configure the options.

Some settings are important, but others are less so and you might consider that some are not important at all. You should at least check the settings and see what others can glean from your computer activities even if you do not change anything.

Some apps and features in Windows 10 will not work if you lock down your computer too tight and it is possible to its functionality and usefulness.

Privacy utilities

There are several privacy utilities that aim to increase your privacy in Windows 10 and it may be tempting to use them. A couple of clicks of the mouse and your PC is super secure.

These are not recommended because they make changes to the way that Windows works and they can have unintended consequences. Sometimes they disable too much and this prevents Windows from working properly.

For example, after turning off certain features that affect privacy, tracking and monitoring, Windows Update might not work, or some other feature that you rely on.

Windows contains all the privacy controls you need. Get to know them, learn how they work, and set the privacy options yourself. The built-in functions are safer, easily reversed, and won't get your PC in a mess.

 


Increase your privacy

Windows 10 contains all the features you need to ensure your privacy. There are switches and settings to reduce the information shared and it is important that you check these even if you don't change any.

You need to be aware of what is shared, who with and why.

Let’s start off by looking at some general settings that can be found in Windows 10.

Open the Settings app

Hold down the Windows key and press I to open the Settings app. There is a whole section dedicated to Privacy. Click it.

Windows 10 Settings

 

Review app permissions, block bad apps

There are many categories in the Privacy section of Windows Settings and there is a long list on the left hand side. Within each category are many settings on the right. They can be organised into general settings and app permissions.

Let’s look at app permissions, using the Microphone as an example.

Many of the other categories are similar and they mostly have the same features, so having explored one, you can apply the same knowledge to the others.

Block all access - lock down your PC

Select Microphone on the left. On the right are the privacy settings for the microphone. There is a master switch at the top that enables you to block all access to the microphone for all apps. You could  click the switch to off, but there is a better option.

Windows Privacy settings

Blocking access to all apps is possible, but not helpful. You might need to use the microphone with certain apps, such as Skype for voice video calling over the internet, speaking to Cortana, and so on. If all apps are blocked then it won’t work.

For this reason it is best to set the switch at the top to On and to use the individual app switches below: Choose apps that can use your microphone.

Scroll down and look at all the apps that can access the microphone.

If there is an app you don’t think needs access, click the switch to Off.

The apps on your computer are unique to you, so it is not possible to provide a list of which apps to allow and which to block. You must use your own judgement.

Repeat for each privacy section

Select Camera, Location, Notifications, Contacts, Calendar, Email, Messaging and the others. Use the On/Off switch at the top to enable or disable the feature. On is best because some apps need the feature, but then look at the list of apps below and use the individual on/off switch to allow or block any you judge don’t need access.

What you are basically looking for are rogue apps that have permission to access things they don’t need. For example, an app that has access to your contacts could share them with unknown people on the internet. Do you trust the app not to?

Return often

Whenever you install a new app from the Windows Store, return to these privacy settings and see what it can access.

If you block an app and the app won’t work, return here and unblock it.

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How General privacy settings affect you

Windows monitors what you do and can report certain information back to Microsoft. This worries some people, but mostly it is unimportant or anonymous, and some settings are very useful. Here's how to review the settings.

Press Windows+I to open Settings, click Privacy and select General on the left.

Windows 10 general privacy settings

This section in Settings, Privacy is different to the others, which are mainly for allowing or blocking apps' access to the PC’s hardware components like the camera and microphone, and Windows components like contacts and email.

Here are the general privacy settings:

Let apps use my advertising ID for experiences across apps: When this is turned on, your computer is given a unique ID. It does not reveal personal information, but it may affect which adverts are displayed in apps you use. Your apps, interests and adverts are associated with your ID. Advertisers use this information to display ads they think interest you Turning this off denies them that information and increases your privacy.

Turn on SmartScreen Filter to check web content (URLs) that Windows Store apps use: This prevents apps downloaded and installed from the Windows Store from accessing bad websites. Turn it on because it helps to block malware, phishing, scams and more.

Send Microsoft info about how I write to help us improve typing and writing in the future: Handwritten notes, such as writing on a tablet with a pen or your finger, can be recognised and turned into text. Text you type can be used to build a personalised dictionary or for text completion where as you type, suggestions appear Turn it off to increases privacy, but Windows ability to recognise writing and make typing suggestions is poorer On is recommended because it makes Windows better. Your writing and typing is not shared with anyone, it just helps Windows learn.

Let websites provide locally relevant content by accessing my language list: When this is On a website can tell which language you speak. This might be used to present content in your language, or prices in your currency. You are revealing a little about yourself, but it makes websites better. Turn it off for greater privacy, but websites might show less relevant information. It is recommended that you switch it on.

Let apps on my other devices open apps and continue experiences on this device: The purpose of this feature enable you to start something on one device, such as writing an email on a phone or tablet, and then continue it on the computer. A few people may find this useful, but if you don’t do this, turn it off.

Let apps on my other devices use Bluetooth to open apps and continue experiences on this device: See the previous setting. Turn it off if you never use it.

 


Microsoft advertising settings and personal info

At the bottom of the General section in Privacy is Manage my Microsoft advertising and other personalisation info. Clicking this link opens a web browser and takes you to the Microsoft choice.microsoft.com website.

On the right side of the web page are some settings. You can choose whether to have personalised adverts in the browser and when you use your Microsoft account, such as logging into Outlook.com to read your email.

Microsoft privacy settings

Off reduces advertiser tracking. It does not prevent adverts, but it causes them to be more random because you are unknown and your interests and habits are unknown.

 

Privacy Action Points

  • Visit the Privacy section of Settings
  • Check each section - Camera, Location, Microphone and so on. Turn off permission for apps that do not need access
  • Check the General section and turn off items you are not comfortable with
  • Disabling features increases privacy, but decreases functionality. It’s your choice
  • Many privacy settings are harmless and don’t reveal much about you
  • Don’t be overly concerned about privacy settings

 


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