How to Tweak Windows 10 Privacy Settings

By Branko VlajinWriter
— Last Updated:

If you’re using a computer, chances are you’re using Windows. If you’re using Windows, you’re likely using the latest version of this OS, 10. There are plenty of gripes to be had concerning this force-fed operating system, but at Cloudwards we like to make lemonade, so in this article we’ll show you how to tweak Windows 10 privacy settings to your liking.

In just a few easy steps we’ll go through the whole process. All you need is to find your settings menu and you’ll be sharing a lot less with far fewer people. Before we get to the nuts and bolts, let’s take a quick look at the history of Windows 10 and privacy.

Windows 10 Privacy: The Tale So Far

Windows 10 has had privacy issues since its launch. Then and now, choosing the “express install” option will set installation defaults which will share the maximum amount of information with Microsoft.

In response to such issues France ordered Microsoft to stop tracking Windows 10 users and collecting their data, and the EU has voiced their misgivings as well.

Most recently, Microsoft enhanced privacy by introducing the Windows Diagnostic Data Viewer, an app which allows the users to decrypt data that Windows 10 sends to Microsoft. It allows for an unprecedented amount of insight into what goes behind the scenes with user data.

How To Improve Windows 10 Privacy

To access your privacy settings open the start menu and type “privacy” and then click on the “privacy settings” result. There are a lot of subsettings in this window, but most of them control what information is supplied to Windows Store apps. That includes apps that come preinstalled (mail, calendar, photos, etc.) as well as those you get from the store.

Almost all categories offer a switch that allows you to turn off access to that feature for all apps. If you don’t want to turn off access completely, there are options at the bottom to fine-tune which apps can use the information. These apps include: “camera,” “microphone,” “notifications,” “tasks,” “account info,” “call history” and “radios.”

Windows 10 automatically assigns an advertising ID to each user on a device linked to the registered email address. That ID will help tailor future ads specifically to you, so don’t be surprised if you see your favorite food or band in the ads. You can turn it off in the “general” category. If you decide to turn it on again, the ID will be reset and you’ll be assigned a new identifier.

The “other devices” privacy option lets apps automatically share and sync info with wireless devices that aren’t explicitly paired with your PC. “Background apps” allows you to set which apps can run in the background.

“Contacts,” “calendar,” “email” and “messaging” apps get access to the People app, in other words, all contacts you’ve imported into Windows. They require it to work as intended but you can toggle those switches off, regardless.

Windows 10 Feedback

Microsoft uses feedback from its installed software to identify things that need to be fixed and improved. Windows 10 regularly uploads this feedback to Microsoft. The data is anonymous. The default setting for consumer versions is “full.” It means that in addition to just the basic data, Windows sends data on browser, app and feature usage.

You can change how much data you send by setting it to “basic.” That includes all data that’s necessary for keeping Windows secure and updated. There, you can also set how often Windows asks for your feedback. If “tailored experiences” is turned on, Microsoft will offer you personalized tips, ads and recommendations to enhance its product and services for you.

In “app diagnostics” you can restrict apps that use diagnostic information. Such information may include the names of running apps, the user account name that launched an app, CPU, disk and network usage.

If “location” is on, Windows, apps and other services can use it to help with actions like setting your current time zone or calculate your position on a map. Also, the “find my device” setting will log your devices’ periodic location on a map. The master switch will disable all location features for all users. You can turn off geofencing there as well. You can turn location off for Windows and specific apps from the list at the bottom of the page.

Windows 10 Data Collection

Windows collects your typed and handwritten words in order to provide you with a personalized dictionary, to help you type and write and provide you with text suggestions. That typing data includes a sample of characters and words you type, though they remove any data that could potentially identify you. Those settings fall under the “speech, inking and typing” privacy category.

Go to the corresponding category and turn off speech services and typing suggestions if you don’t want to share that information. This also disables Cortana (more on her later).

Toggling the master switch off in “account info” will make sure no apps can access your name, picture and other info. If you’re signed in with a Microsoft account, you’re able to use OneDrive to sync your settings to other machines. Those settings include theme, language preferences, saved passwords, apps you installed from Microsoft’s store and others. You can turn it off by going to “settings” > “accounts” > “sync your settings.”

However, OneDrive is an opt-in, not opt-out service, so if you don’t log in to it, it does nothing (read our OneDrive review for more on this cloud storage service). That way Windows will not be able to automatically download files for apps that request them. That’s regulated in the “automatic file downloads” category.

Windows 10 and WiFi

When you’re connected to an untrusted WiFi network, your connection settings are automatically set to “public” and your computer is not visible to other devices. To check and possibly change that go to “settings” > “network & internet” > “network status” > “change connection properties.”

When you’re connected to an open WiFi network, the owner of that network can see every connection you make and intercept your content. However, regardless of what it’s set to in the WiFi settings, your computer will not connect to open networks automatically anymore.

If you still do connect, your best bet is to use a virtual private network, or VPN for any kind of sensitive information (read our best VPN for Windows article if you want to know more). What’s more, using it whenever you can is the best way to ensure your privacy.

Enabling Cortana allows Windows 10 to upload some info from your devices, such as calendar events, names of people in your appointments, your contacts’ names and nicknames, your favorite places, apps you use and your music preferences. This data helps Cortana make personalized recommendations.

To make sure that isn’t the case, go to the Cortana category in the settings. There you’ll see switches that govern whether Cortana will respond to voice input, keyboard shortcuts and when the screen is locked. Switch them to “off.”

Final Thoughts

Although Microsoft collects a lot of information from your computer and has had a lot of controversy in the past regarding Windows 10 privacy and data collection, the company has made some strides in improving both: WiFi sense is no more (it could share your wifi password), advertising ID is under your control and the nosy Cortana can be turned off.

On top of that, there’s a diagnostic tool that helps you see the data Microsoft collects for yourself, along with Windows 10 privacy settings that control the apps themselves. It doesn’t stop there, there’s a lot of data that’s transferred to Microsoft and it concerns online services and not Windows. Check it out in their privacy statement.

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When it comes to the web, you should take care of your privacy while using it, as well. We’ve mentioned VPN, but you can also use various tools to help protect your privacy. The other software behemoth, Google, is not without faults, but you can read how to take control of your privacy when sharing files with Google. If you need help choosing the right cloud storage, which can also affect your privacy, be sure to read our cloud security primer.

Do you know of any other settings that help protect privacy, but that we’ve missed? Do you use any other dedicated tools to prevent intrusion? Tell us all about it in the comments. Thank you for reading.