Home / Windows 10

Windows 10 Privacy Settings

Privacy settings used to be a thing about mobile phones, which Microsoft ingeniously ported to their Win8 release. In Win10, even more options are added. There five categories in Win8 - it was increased to 12 in Win10:

  • Location
  • Camera
  • Microphone
  • Speech, inking, and typing
  • Account info
  • Contacts
  • Calendar
  • Messaging
  • Radios
  • Other Devices
  • Feedback and Diagnostics
  • Background Apps

There is also a "General" section that contains some of the most common settings. All these can be accessed in their own group under Win10's Settings app.

The Account Info Section

One of the most generic sections of this group is the Account Info tab. This part allows you to control how apps access your name (ID), pictures, and other account information. This will also allow you to turn the SmartScreen filter on or off (this is the option in Edge that checks web content for phishing activities).

Contacts, Calendar, and Messaging

Like in mobile, there will be applications that will require access to your stored contacts to work properly. This includes Mail and Calendar and the Windows App Connector. These services can be blocked from accessing your contacts, as well as your calendar (appears in a separate on/off switch) The Account Info section also contains details about messaging, which is another privacy concern especially if you are on a Windows Phone (assuming you use this as your main messaging tool). Some apps are able to access your inbox, both SMS and MMS. It is best to check the Messaging section to see which of the apps installed has access to read your info.

Since the breach of any of these first three settings can pose a dire risk to your privacy, it will be best to check these tabs first thing when logging onto a Windows 10 system.

The Location Section

This is the fourth tab that everyone should check. This section has the job of tying you and your device down to a specific place, allowing apps (and potentially other people) to know where you are and which places you have visited. Win10 improves greatly upon previous releases, allowing you to better control your location privacy.

One aspect of this greater control is that you can now disable or enable the location service globally (in previous iterations, this had to be shut down per app). You can also control location settings either individually or for all the user accounts on your device. This means that each separate user can set up their own location settings.

To turn off the location service for the whole device, click on the "Change" button. This will open a new dialog box which shows the switch.

If you wish to leave the service running, you have to look into a few other options. First, there is the location history which stores where you have been for a fairly limited amount of time. This is mainly used by tracking apps and services. To clear it, simply click the corresponding button.

Below this "Clear" button, there is also a list of applications that use the location service. This will allow you to individually grant or revoke access to individual apps.

Then, there is also a "geofencing" feature that allows users to set GPS-based boundaries. This allows them to control the behavior of the OS depending on where their GPS says they are. Applications using geofencing are listed, and access can be manually accessed or revoked.

Camera and Microphone

Like on mobile, there are applications that will need to gather permission first before using your camera. There are also those that are set to use it by default. You can see which apps are configured to access your snapper on this tab. Parents or those whose computers regularly have multiple users will want to pay attention to this setting.

Like in other settings, you can also do a global revocation of Windows' rights to use the camera. Like always, if you want to disable the webcam altogether, it is best to simply unplug it from your computer to avoid privacy issues stemming from malicious software.

The same options are available for the microphone, which is used by apps like Skype. Remember that microphones and webcams pose risks when it comes to privacy, so it will be a good idea to pay attention to this section.

Getting to know you

One of the first new features a Win10 user will encounter is the "Getting to know you" - this is a feature that automatically learns your voice and handwriting, as well as the way you type, your calendar history, and other bits of info. This information is stored in the cloud (similar to a system implemented by Amazon's Echo). Because it is not local, signing in with your Microsoft account also lets the system import settings specifically suited to the way you use Windows.

Many privacy-concerned users have highlighted how dangerous it will be to share all of this information with Microsoft. To the company's credit, however, it has placed an easy-to-find button on the privacy settings to allow users to turn off the feature at a moment's notice.

Note, however, that stopping this feature will disable the use of Cortana. It will also disable the dictation feature, while removing everything that the device has collected about you.

But there is another place in the cloud where Win10 stores your history and preferences - through its default search engine, Bing. To remove this as well, click on the "Go to Bing and manage personal info for all your devices" link under Manage cloud info. This will take you to the Bing settings page, where you will find a "Clear" button right under the block of text that explains Cortana data and personalized identifiers.

Radios

This does not pertain to your music streaming accounts - rather, it is concerned with interconnectivity devices such as Bluetooth, which can send or receive data on the device. Some applications may have the permission to turn Bluetooth and other radio services on or off - like in previous menus, you will be able to see an individual list of these settings as well as find an option to disable it universally.

The Other Settings

Depending on how you use your device, the remaining settings could be just as important. For example, the "Sync with devices" option allows you to share app info with other wireless devices that are not paired with the device. You can either turn this feature on or off, or choose which apps can sync to which devices.

There is also a section that lists all "trusted" devices that are connected to the PC, phone, or tablet you are running Windows rom. You will also find a section that blocks applications that attempt to access USB storage -- a useful feature to prevent flash drive-mediated malware infection. You will likewise find a list of allowed and disallowed apps here.

If you are keen on providing feedback for the operating system, you can adjust how often Windows will ask you for it. You also have the option of regulating how much information is being sent to Microsoft for diagnostics.

Background Apps

Then finally, there is an option to manage background apps. These are software designed to run unobtrusively, such as antivirus apps. Despite not having an active user interface, these programs can send and receive updates, information, notifications, and other data.

You will be able to see and manage which applications will be able to use your system resources in the background. Take note, however, that disabling some of these applications can compromise their synchronization features. For example, disabling your email application from using background data will prevent it from updating and sending you the latest mail.

Persistent Issues

While Windows 10 gives these ample settings for the protection of its users' privacy, there are many who claim that even with all of them turned off some data is still being sent to Microsoft. As such, it has turned into a controversy of its own. Here are five of the most persistent issues that one needs to consider when upgrading to/working with Windows 10 in its current form.

1. Privacy vs. Personalization

There has been a shift to the cloud in Microsoft's business model over the past few years. This is also evident across a vast majority of tech companies -- and to properly implement a cloud-based service for its customers' advantage, a certain extent of personal data is needed. According to some tech experts, even the decision to give Win10 for free to existing subscribers was a move meant to help jumpstart Microsoft's lagging cloud ecosystem. In fact, it is something that other large companies like Google, Apple, and Amazon are already doing.

In this light, the biggest trade-off will be a little bit of privacy for additional ease of use - consider the case of Cortana, for example.

2. OPT-IN VS. OPT-OUT

Another issue that gets brought up in Win10 is the amount of control users have and want over their personal data. Big companies report hacks and breaches every now and then, and users generally want to know exactly how their data is being stored, transmitted, and used.

As mentioned before, Win10 allows users to opt-out of default settings pertaining to information sharing. This can be done at the moment of installing, or after installation. While fine, this is strictly a US standard -- other places such as the UK and the EU instead are used to an opt-in model, where no data is shared until one actually clicks a button to allow it.

This brings the privacy-conscious to the question of whether an opt-in or opt-out environment is more beneficial. Many see the sharing defaults as a violation of privacy, while the opt-in nature may mean that you are kept out of the loop of certain features.

3. Problematic Options

In the modern world, data collection is already a common practice. To be fair to Microsoft, there are even a lot of companies that do not put an opt-out button on the table. Google, for example, has a massive amount of data that contains all sorts of search information from day one of sign-up.

The problem here arises at the point when software like Win10 may not explicitly say exactly which features will allow users to keep which data private, and which will allow which data to be sent. While this is mostly a matter of reading the documentation, most of the pertinent articles that bring this to light are contained in third-party resources.

4. Subjective Privacy

The way Win10 is initially presented, people are faced with a "one-size-fits-all" package that allows them to somewhat trim things that aren't of their liking. To be fair again, this has been the general Windows philosophy and is a deciding factor in its claim to fame -- not everyone wants to get down and dirty with UNIX-like systems and such.

However, when the equation contains privacy matters, things can get more complicated -- not everyone would also want to get down and dirty with settings even to protect their privacy. This is why a very careful approach to Win10 settings is needed, and is outlined in this resource.

5. Users VS. Companies

The thing is the entire Win10 privacy controversies did not harm the OS (which it shouldn't, anyway). The initial install rates were through the roof (14 million PCs in the first 24 hours!), and the users appear to not have lost faith in the software giant despite the entire bad rap from certain fronts. In all, it boils down to understanding which policies are in place and for what, and knowing how to push back against certain policies that you do not want.

More: Windows 10 Tutorials