9 Ways to Prevent Windows 10 From Spying on You

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Many users consider Windows 10 to be the best version of Windows that Microsoft has ever released. However, you may not be aware of how intrusive the operating system really is. By default, Windows 10 is programmed to constantly track confidential data about you and what you do on your computer, store that information on your hard drive and send it back to Microsoft via the web for processing.

According to Microsoft’s privacy statement, this information is used only to improve the operating system. It is not sold to third parties, and is deleted after 30 days. But no matter how Microsoft tries to spin this, most users would consider this an unfair intrusion on their privacy.

According to InvestmentWatch, Windows 10 transmits the following data back to Microsoft:

  • Typed text on keyboard sent every 30 minutes
  • Anything you say into a microphone
  • Transcripts of things you say while using Cortana
  • Index of all media files on your computer
  • When your webcam is first enabled, 35mb of data
  • Telemetry data

Here are privacy settings you can tweak to prevent Windows 10 from collecting data about what you do on your computing device.

1. Switch off your location.

For security reasons, it would be a bad idea to keep your location switched on all the time. When you keep your location switched on, Windows 10 stores your computing device’s location history for up to 24 hours. During this time, apps with location permissions will have access to that data.

If your location is switched off, apps that use your location (such as the Maps app) will not be able to find you. But you can manually set a default location that apps can use.

To switch off your location, go to Start > Settings > Privacy > Location. Click the Change button under Location for this device is on and toggle it to off. Below this setting, you can also allow or restrict apps from knowing your location.

2. Turn off ad tracking.

Each Microsoft account has a unique advertising ID that allows Microsoft to collect information about you. The ID gathers info about you as you browse the web and as you use Windows 10 apps. This information is used to create a profile of you and your interests to deliver a personalized ad experience across various platforms. When you sign into Windows 10 with a Microsoft account, targeted ads will follow you onto your computer. You’ll see them in frequently used apps and sometimes in the operating system itself. 

To switch these ads off in Windows 10, go to Start > Settings > Privacy > General > Toggle off Let apps use advertising ID to make ads more interesting to you based on your app usage. This doesn’t mean you won’t see ads any more. You’ll still see ads, but they just won’t be personalized to you.

3. Use Microsoft’s Privacy Dashboard

Microsoft has introduced a web-based privacy tool that allows you to track and delete a lot of information that Microsoft collects about you. To get to it, when you’re logged in with your Microsoft account, go to account.microsoft.com/privacy. Here you can do things like turn off ad targeting, delete data gathered by Cortana, to review and delete data about you that Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer have collected about you including location activity, search history, browsing history, voice activity, social media activity, and a lot more.

Turning this off will prevent ads from showing up when you’re using Windows 10, but you’ll still see ads when you’re using Windows 10 on other platforms. If you want to get rid of ads on other platforms, you can do so from Microsoft’s advertising opt-out page.  

4. Change your app permissions.

You can decide what level of access Windows apps can have on your device because they have the potential to intrude on your privacy by gaining access to your camera, location, pictures, videos and microphone. To control app permissions, go to Start > Settings > Privacy. Type App Permissions in the search box on the left pane, and you’ll get a list of all of all the hardware and features that Windows apps can access if they have permission to do so. By clicking on any of the items, you can turn off access for all apps. You can also view a listing of all apps that have access to the microphone, and control access on an app-by-app basis.

5. Stop syncing.

If you have multiple Windows 10 devices, when you sign into Windows 10 on one device with your Microsoft account, you can sync your settings with all of your Windows devices. For example, if you make any changes to settings on your desktop PC, those settings, including your passwords, will be applied to your laptop when you login with the same account. Note that if you switch off syncing, your settings and passwords will not be synced when you login with the same Microsoft account. To switch of syncing, go to Start > Settings > Accounts > Sync your settings. Here you have the option of turning syncing off or switching it off for different features.

6. Switch to a local account.

Once you have turned off syncing across your devices, there’s no point using your Microsoft account to login to your computing devices. You can simply use a local account that doesn’t require email, which will prevent Microsoft from collecting information about you. When you create a local account, all you need to do is to create a username and password.

Click here for instructions on how to create a local Windows account. Note however that when this is done, you won’t be able to use Microsoft’s OneDrive storage or install paid apps from the Microsoft store. However, you’ll still be able to install free apps from the Microsoft store.

7. Switch off Timeline

If you have multiple Windows 10 devices, Timeline is a feature that allows you to resume activities that you’ve started on one device, on another device. For example, if you begin work on a Windows 10 laptop and logoff, you’ll be able to resume your activities on a different Windows 10 machine. But to do this, Windows will need to collect information about your activities on both computers and send it off to Microsoft. If this is something that bothers you, you can switch Timeline off.

To do that, go to Start > Settings > Privacy > Activity History and uncheck the boxes next to Store my activity history on this device and Send my activity history to Microsoft.

8. Limit what information Cortona gathers about you.

Cortona is a visual assistant built into Windows 10. But for it to work well, Cortona collects a lot of information about you including your device location information and location history, contacts, voice input, searching history, calendar details, content, place of work and the times and route you take to get there, as well as communication history from messages and apps on your device. You can limit the amount of information that Cortona gathers about you. Note however, that there’s some information you’ll have to share if you want to use Cortona at all.

Make sure you are signed in to your Microsoft account. Open Cortona settings by clicking on the circle icon next to the Windows 10 search box, then click the three-dot icon in the top left of the screen. Select the Settings icon. A panel appears that allows you to limit the information Cortona gathers about you. If you click on Revoke Permission and sign out, Cortona won’t collect any information about you, but you also won’t be able to use the tool.

To clear other information from Cortana, go to the Privacy Dashboard. Scroll down to ‘Cortona’s Notebook’ and click on Edit Cortona. To delete all of the data Cortona has collected about you, click Clear Cortona data on the right of the screen. You will have to repeat this process from time to time because Cortona will begin to collect information about you once you start using. If you don’t want the tool to collect any information, you’ll have to stop using it completely.

9. Use the free WPD tool

The WPD tool is the most convenient way to manage all of your privacy settings in Windows 10. The tool is easy to use and simplifies the process of finding the settings you need to change. It also tells you what each setting does, so you don’t have to try to figure anything out on your own.

Here’s how to use the WPD tool:

  1. Go to wpd.app.

2. Click the big blue Download button

3. Right click the zipped folder and click open

4. Double click the WPD app

Click “Extract All”

Select where to save the file. Make sure “Show extracted files when complete” box is checked. Click on browse and select desktop in the left pane. Click on “Select Folder” and click on Extract.

Double-click on WPD.exe file.

wpd app

Click “Yes” to allow WPD.exe to make changes.

You’re now faced with 3 icons:

Privacy

Click on the Privacy button to manage your privacy settings. Under Local Group Policy, toggle off each setting you want to switch off. If you’re not sure about a particular setting, click on the question mark beside the setting for an explanation.

Blocker

This is where you can block the Windows 10 Telemetry data. This typically includes basic system diagnostics information, logs of how frequently you use features and applications, system files, and other metrics that Microsoft hasn’t disclosed. This is where you can also block applications like Skype, Bing, Live and Microsoft Office. You can also block Windows Update, but this isn’t recommended, as that could leave holes in your operating systems that cybercriminals can exploit. This is also where you can enable or disable the Windows Firewall (should be left on). 

Apps

This is where you can directly remove any unwanted Windows app from your PC.

At the bottom of the tool, avoid choosing “Disable All”. Doing so will switch off all the privacy settings including Microsoft Services and Task Scheduler settings in one felt swoop. It is better to go through each individual setting one by one.

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