Introduction and Disclaimer
Before we dive into the subject, I believe that a little disclaimer is necessary to make sure that everybody reading is at least a bit aware of what they are doing. To clarify, any iteration of Windows released for commercial use is not made with user privacy in mind.
That is not to say that Microsoft is some evil, spying corporation that some people make them out to be, but they have definitely been justifiably accused of some shady dealings regarding privacy in the past.
And in the end, who is to say that our information will not be illegally acquired by a 3rd party because they managed to find their way into Microsoft’s data storage.
The best way to make sure your data is not constantly sniffed through is to refrain from using Windows as your operating system of choice.
For those who are ready to exchange a little bit of privacy for the many features that Windows offers, here is how to make sure that your Windows is not working behind your back.
Since Windows 10 is the most commonly used version of Windows OS and as it appears, the most heavily criticized regarding Windows privacy and security issues, we will first look into making it as secure as our knowledge permits us to.
The biggest Windows privacy issue that Windows 10 puts before us is the fact that it holds an open connection to Microsoft cloud with which it exchanges data regularly.
This information can be used for something as simple as remembering passwords from web sites we visited to actually following us on the internet, analyzing our queries and then “tailoring” ads that might interest us.
There is also the fact that Microsoft is pushing the use of their Microsoft Accounts which makes their customers provide them with further personal information.
The second thing one should look into tweaking is Windows’ virtual assistant Cortana.
While Cortana might prove a useful feature when it comes to day-to-day jobs like sending emails, setting up reminders and what not, the fact that it will actively follow our web searches and even searches started from the start menu does seem a bit concerning.
After grabbing said information it will then send it to Microsoft where it will be used for various analyses.
Now that we are aware of various Windows privacy issues it has, we can start looking into fixing them one by one.
While there are some pieces of software that are designed for this very purpose, it is advisable to do this by hand, as it really isn’t much work and by doing it this way we are making sure everything is done properly.
The easiest way to fix all Windows privacy issues in one fell sweep is to do a clean install of Windows 10 and then customize it in a way that makes our privacy a number 1 concern.
- After we get to the Windows 10 installation screen we want to choose “Custom Install” and wait out the installation process
- Following this we will be prompted to customize our Windows 10 experience and will be offered “Use Express Settings” and “Customize” buttons, choose “Customize” as default settings do not work for our privacy-oriented needs
- Turn off every setting that you are offered
- When you get to “Make it yours” screen, click “Skip this step” which will allow you to create a local account which is extremely advisable
- Follow the system instructions until Windows is configured
On an already installed system
In case we do not want to reinstall our Windows 10 in order to customize the Windows privacy settings, there are a number of steps that need to be followed in order to achieve the same Windows privacy results.
- First, open Settings (represented as a white cog in the Start Menu) and go to the Windows “Privacy” tab
- Turn off everything in the “General” tab
- Go to the “Location” tab and turn off “Location,” click “Change” and then turn off “Location for this device” as well
- Go to “Speech, inking & typing,” click on “Stop getting to know me” and click “Turn off”
- Go to “Feedback & Diagnostics” and choose “Never” from the first drop-down item and “Basic” from the second one
- Next go to Settings, then choose “Update & Security” followed by “Windows Update,” “Advanced options” and “Choose how updates are delivered” and turn the topmost switch off
- While still on the “Update & Security” tab of the Settings menu, go to “Windows Defender” and switch off the “Cloud based Protection” and “Sample submission”
- After this is done, go to the “Network & Internet” tab of the Settings menu, then go to “Wi-Fi” and after that click on “Manage Wi-Fi Settings” and turn both available switches off, this will turn off Wi-Fi Sense
- After all of this is done, we want to disable Cortana as well and this is done by opening a “Search bar” and clicking on a cog which opens up the Settings
- Turn off both switches available
- Next up is disabling telemetry, meaning that our Windows 10 should no longer send any data unless explicitly asked to. This is done by opening Command Prompt as an Admin and entering the following:
sc delete DiagTrack
sc delete dmwappushservice
echo “” > C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Diagnosis\ETLLogs\AutoLogger\AutoLogger-Diagtrack-Listener.etl
reg add “HKLM\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\DataCollection” /v AllowTelemetry /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f
- As stated above it is extremely advisable to use to use the local account for your Windows 10 and switching to it is done by going to the Settings menu and then choosing an “Accounts” tab, followed by “Your account” tab and clicking on “Sign in with local account instead”
This should cover all of the Windows privacy issues that one would have with Windows 10, but it is important to note that some research has revealed that Windows 10 will still send some data to Microsoft clouds despite these Windows privacy settings being in place.
In case you want to be really serious about your privacy, their best bet would be opting for another more secure OS.
While not as actively criticized for the lack of Windows privacy as its successor, Windows 8 also has its own Windows privacy issues, some of which have transferred over to Windows 10, but weirdly some of them have appeared after Windows 10 was released.
Some of these Windows privacy issues are several updates that brought Telemetry and Data Collection features which were first released as part of Windows 10.
This update essentially makes your Windows 8 act in a similar way to Windows 10 when it comes to Windows privacy and data collection.
Luckily, this is only an update and it can be deleted even after it has been installed. Follow these steps:
- Open Control Panel and click on Programs and Features icon
- Click on “View installed updates” link in the left sidebar
- At this point you should be looking for the following updates: KB3112343, KB3083711, KB3083325, KB3080149, KB3075853, KB3075249, KB3072318, KB3068708, KB3065988, KB3064683, KB3058168, KB3050267, KB3044374, KB3035583, KB3022345, KB2976978
- If you find any of them, right-click and choose “Uninstall”
- After you have located and uninstalled the updates from the list, you should restart your computer
- Following this you should look for new updates using Windows Updates
- Naturally, your computer will find the updates you just deleted, when they show up on the list, right-click on them and choose “Hide Updates” so they do not show up again or get inadvertently installed
- It is also advisable to set Windows Updates to “Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them”
Another Windows privacy issue that has been brought up in Windows 8 is the use of Windows SmartScreen, which essentially scans all applications we are trying to install on our computers and sends the data to Microsoft under pretense of protecting their users from potentially harmful software.
- First, we need to open Control Panel
- Secondly, click on System and Security
- Choose Action Center from the following menu
- Expand the list you are presented with upon entering Action Center and find the Windows SmartScreen option
- Choose “Turn off Windows SmartScreen” and click OK
This will completely turn off Windows SmartScreen and hopefully prevent Microsoft from knowing which applications we are installing.
As it was stated before, Windows is not set by default to protect its users’ privacy.
While there probably isn’t anything illegal or shady that Microsoft does with the data they collect from their customers, it is still not comfortable knowing that somebody watches our every “step” on the internet and even logs it.
While Microsoft might only use this data for ad analytics and such, this data could fall into the wrong hands if a leak occurs.
Given this it is best to keep safe and relinquish what little utility these features provide in order to ensure that our data is ours and nobody else’s.