Ever since the release of Windows 10 in July 2015, Microsoft has been criticised by users and experts for asking for more data on users than it did before with any of its previous operating systems. Many called this an unprecedented privacy breach by Microsoft. Earlier this week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an international non-profit digital rights group, also accused Microsoft of using Windows 10 to send user data back to Microsoft’s servers, particularly in cases where users have personalised their Operating system using Cortana. This data is referred to as telemetry data by Microsoft as it requires users to share some information on how they are using their PC. The group asked Microsoft to address the privacy issues.
Microsoft claims that gathering telemetry data is important as it helps them track performance issues in the OS so they can improve the overall user experience. Microsoft also points out that it provides enough options to users to opt out of Windows 10 features which make them uncomfortable. The user data shared by Microsoft includes location, text and voice input, browsing history and some telemetry data.
Though users can disable some of the settings manually, EFF doubts if it is enough to prevent Microsoft from snooping upon its users completely. Whatever the debate eventually may be, consumers want a conclusive solution to deal with the potential of snooping, right away. Here are some of the usual suspects and this is how you can avoid them.
Microsoft’s personal assistant works on similar lines as Google Now. It collects user information such as location history, voice input, search history, messages and apps. It is also integrated with Microsoft’s Edge browser and gathers user’s browsing history. To turn it off completely, click on Cortana icon on the task bar and click again on settings icon on the left hand side of the page. The next pop window shows settings, device search history and search online. Tap on the blue toggle button in each of them until it turns black and the text next to it says off.
Tracking user location helps apps deliver locally relevant news and weather update to users. To turn off location, go to Settings and click on Privacy. The next page shows a number of options on the left side of the page with the details of the selected option on the right. Scroll down to the Location and click on the location toggle button until it turns black from blue.
Typing and voice input
This is another feature which is making users uncomfortable. To switch it off, go to the Windows Settings page and click on Privacy. Scroll down and go to Speech, inking & typing and clock on “Stop getting to know me" tab on the right side of the page.
Though touted by Microsoft as one of the most resource intensive browser, Edge browser can be a privacy nightmare. In case you still want to stick with the Edge browser for its better battery management, as Microsoft claims, it would be wise to put a few built-in elements out of action. To begin with, go to Settings in Edge browser, scroll down and click on View advanced settings. This will show options such as Search and site suggestions, Cortana assist, Cookies, page predictions, SmartScreen filter. Disabling them one by one to take control over your browser. If you have already disabled Cortana earlier, the Cortana Assist will already show as disabled.
Minimise data sharing
Windows 10 accumulates all performance, diagnostic and usage related information and send to Microsoft servers so it can identify unique users and understand the issues and usage pattern better. You can disable the feedback feature completely, but in case of diagnostic and usage information, you can only decide how much of data you want to part away with. Go to Settings, click on Privacy and scroll down to Feedback & Diagnostics. The first tab is on Feedback frequency. Click on it and choose never. In Diagnostic and usage data click on the tab and switch to basic from enhanced or full. Basic only relays basic error information, device configuration, software version, device’s IP address and other hardware devices connected to users.