Microsoft launched the latest version of its flagship operating software, Windows 10 with much fanfare a few days ago. Users lapped it up happily with over 14 million installations within 24 hours of its launch. However, there are privacy concerns raised by users and experts alike which seem to be playing the party pooper for an otherwise successful launch by Microsoft.
Users have noticed serious privacy issue and taken to sites like Reddit and Hacker News forums to express them. The main issue cited lies in the default settings of Windows 10, which sends user data to Microsoft which in turn uses it serve targeted ads to users. There are issues with Windows using bandwidth to upload data to other Windows computers, share Wi-Fi passwords with online friends and taking out the ability to opt out of security updates.
In what is seen as one of the biggest concerns to user privacy breach are the personalized ads which are embedded in the OS itself. When a user installs Windows he or she is assigned a unique advertising ID. This advertising ID is tied the email that is used to register the software at the time of installation. The same email is also used for its cloud storage uploads, app downloads and other related features. Microsoft uses this information to serve personalize ads to users both while using the apps and during web surfing. Worse still Microsoft seems to be leading the way serving unskippable video ads on its freemium game Solitaire, which has been a part of Windows since the launch of Windows 3.0 in the 90s.
On the other hand, Windows 10 also harvests user data from device location, app usage, calendar, text messages, and even emails to teach Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s ever popular voice assistant Siri. It monitors whom you call and how often you interact with them. While users have the option of opting out of this data harvesting, it is only superficial as the OS still has leverage over your data and can choose to use it to its own accord.
Alec Meer, a security expert from the Rock Paper Shotgun, a gaming website says “Microsoft simply aren’t making it clear enough that they’re doing this, how it might affect you and how to opt out – despite chest-thumping, we’re-all-chums-here talk about how ‘real transparency starts with straightforward terms and policies that people can clearly understand. There is no world in which 45 pages of policy documents and opt-out settings split across 13 different Settings screens and an external website constitutes ‘real transparency’.”
Considering that Microsoft has chosen to take your privacy concerns with a pinch of salt, the onus is on the users now to safeguard their interest and protect their data. If you’re a proud owner of the new Windows 10 on your PC, then there are measures you can take at the time of set up to minimize your data trickling out and used for anything undesirable including personalized advertising.
We bring you this handy step by step guide published by IsLeaked for Windows 10 set up and actions you may take to mitigate privacy concerns.
1. During installation
1. Settings customization
2. Use local account with Windows 10
2. On installed system
1. General privacy settings
2. Feedback & diagnostics
3. Windows Update
4. Windows Defender
5. Wi-Fi Sense
6. Cortana & web search
7. Telemetry services
8. Edge browser
1. Do NOT use Express Settings. Click “Customize Settings”, and make sure EVERYTHING is turned off.
2. It’s strongly preferred that you use a local account with Windows 10. You can do it while “Make it yours” screen appears by clicking “Skip this step”. After that it’s safe to follow instructions.
On installed system
1. Head to Settings > Privacy, and disable everything, unless there are some things you really need (like allowing websites access to your language list). At least pay attention to “General”, “Speech, inking & typing” and “Location” pages.
2. While within the “Privacy” page, go to “Feedback & diagnostics”, select Never in the first box, and Basic in the second box.
3. Head to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update > Advanced Options > Choose how updates are delivered, and turn the first switch off.
4. While within the Update & Security page, go to “Windows Defender” and turn off “Cloud based Protection” and “Sample submission”.
5. Head to Settings > Network & Internet > Wi-Fi > Manage Wi-Fi settings. Turn off both switches to disable Wi-Fi Sense.
6. Disable Cortana and web search in “Search bar” by clicking on it, going to Settings by pressing on a cog icon, and turning off both switches.
7. To disable telemetry open Command Prompt as administrator by clicking right mouse button on Start button or by pressing Win+X shortcut, and enter 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
8. It will not be superfluous to set up Edge browser. Open it, then go to More Actions > Settings > View advanced settings. Enable Do Not Track requests and disable search suggestions, page prediction and SmartScreen filter. Make sure that Cortana is switched off too.
9. If you’re using Microsoft account, it’s preferred to convert it to local account by heading to Settings > Accounts > Your accounts and clicking on Sign in with a local account instead and following the guide.
If you can’t do this, turn off sync settings. Head to Settings > Accounts > Sync your settings and switch it off.
Microsoft introduced a lot of new great features in Windows 10 such as Cortana. However, most of them are breaking your privacy. For example if you’re using the default settings, each time you start typing in search box in taskbar (to open an application or search for a file on your computer), your local search terms and location are sent to Microsoft, some of which advertise to you.
Windows have to protect user privacy by default. Since it doesn’t, you can follow these steps to disable the parts of Windows which are invasive to your privacy.