Microsoft has made an art out of collecting as much of your information as they possibly can to pass to their corporate partners. They like to say this creates a more “customized user experience”, but what it basically comes down to is that you and your personal information are more at risk. After all, why would a hacker target a single computer when they can get a lot of people’s information all in one place? Thankfully, Microsoft has given us the ability to lock down most of the data that would otherwise be sent to them. Here’s how to change your Windows 10 privacy settings to minimize the amount of information being sent to Microsoft.
Open Settings from the Start menu
Open the Start menu which looks like a white Window icon down in the lower left corner of your screen. From there, move your mouse cursor up slightly to the gear icon. When the mouse cursor touches the gear icon, the word “Settings” will appear. Click either the icon or the word to open up Windows Settings. When Settings opens, you will be looking at a window that looks very similar to this.
Go to the Privacy settings section
Click on the padlock icon to open the Privacy section of settings. This the second to last section in the main Settings window. The Privacy settings opens to the “General” privacy settings which looks like this.
Turn off (almost) every setting
The first five settings apply to Windows in general. The settings starting with “Location” are what programs (aka applications or simply apps) on your computer have access to. Most of the time, keeping a lot of these settings turned on is harmless, but what happens if you do contract a virus or other malware? A nefarious program could use these permissions to access a whole lot of personal information that you would prefer to stay private. Microsoft has these turned on by default to supposedly “enhance your experience”. Almost all of these can be turned off to prevent apps from accessing your personal information.
Here is a comprehensive list of the different privacy settings within Windows Settings and whether they should be kept on or turned off. Sometimes there are just toggle switches to click. The cases where you need to click a Change button to reveal the toggle switch are indicated.
- General – Off, Off, Off, Off
- Speech – Off
- Inking & typing personalization – Off
- Diagnostics & feedback – Required
- Activity history – Uncheck “Story my activity history on this device”
- Location – Change –> Off
- Camera – Change –> Off (keep on if you need to use your camera for Zoom, etc)
- Microphone – Change –> Off (keep on if you need to use your microphone for Zoom, Discord, etc)
- Voice activation – Off
- Notifications – Change –> Off
- Account info – Change –> Off*
- Contacts – Change –> Off*
- Calendar – Change –> Off*
- Phone calls – Change –> Off*
- Call history – Change –> Off*
- Email – Change –> Off*
- Tasks – Change –> Off*
- Messaging – Change –> Off*
- Radios – Change –> Off
- Other devices – Off
- Background apps – Off
- App diagnostics – Off
- Automatic file downloads – should already be off
- Documents – keep on
- Pictures – keep on
- Videos – keep on
- File system – keep on
The settings marked with an asterisk (*) must stay on if you access your email through Windows Mail. This app’s icon looks like a blue or white envelope which is probably on the line of icons at the bottom of your screen (the Taskbar). If you use a web browser such as Google Chrome, Firefox, or Edge to access your email, you can safely turn these settings off.
While it is impossible to keep from sending all data to Microsoft or keep apps from getting any information at all, after all we do need to accomplish things with the computer occasionally, we have now locked down our privacy settings as much as we can using Windows itself. There is much more we can do to keep our digital footprint small, but that can wait for another day.
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