Privacy and settings in Windows 10 and Microsoft Edge
In lieu of Microsoft’s updated notes on user privacy in Windows 10, we’re republishing this help and how-to guide for new users.
Microsoft’s Windows 10 OS adds and simplifies many things for the user including security and privacy settings. Indeed, Windows 10 is both more secure and yet shares more data than any previous operating system.
The interesting part about security and privacy in Windows 10 is that Microsoft is very transparent on what data they collect, store, use and how they use it. Additionally, the company gives users many ways to opt-out of such data collection. The downside in a user doing this is it disables many of the OS personalization that makes Windows 10 so significant.
Let’s break it all down.
Microsoft’s Privacy Statement
Before we get started make sure you take a moment to read Microsoft’s very public and thorough Privacy Statement : www.microsoft.com/privacystatement as well as a more general statement on Trustworthy Computing.
Microsoft is very clear on what they collect, why the collect it and what they do with it. It is up to you to decide what are the boundaries of acceptance and to know all the details. There are lots of interesting bits, though, and we will highlight a few by using the July 2015 terms for reference.
- Children and Advertising – Microsoft does not deliver interest-based advertising to children whose birthdate in their Microsoft account identifies them as under 13 years of age.
- Data Retention – For interest-based advertising, Microsoft retains data for no more than 13 months, unless they obtain your consent to retain the data longer.
- Data collected includes your name, how to contact, demographics, payment info, usage, contacts and relationships, location, and some content
- How Microsoft uses your personal data : providing services, service improvement, security, advertising
How to opt-out of interest-based advertising
To be clear, Microsoft is using this information for advertising, even for targeted marketing. In some ways, this is not a bad thing. If you have to see ads would you rather see something mildly interesting or something unrelated to your age or interests? I do not know. It is your preference.
Obviously no ads are the ideal but Microsoft is offering a lot of free services, and they are not immune to this popular business model. To wit:
“Many of our services are supported by advertising. We use the data we collect to help select the ads Microsoft delivers – whether on our own services or on services offered by third parties. The ads we select may be based on your current location, search query, or the content you are viewing. Other ads are targeted based on your likely interests or other information that we learn about you over time using demographic data, search queries, interests and favorites, usage data, and location data – which we refer to as “interest-based advertising” in this statement. Microsoft does not use what you say in email, chat, video calls or voice mail, or your documents, photos or other personal files to target ads to you.”
That last point about not using your email is still a vital difference between Microsoft and other competitors in this area. Even if you opt-out of targeted advertising on Gmail you may still see “contextual ads based on the message you are reading as well as other relevant ads”.
Luckily, you can easily opt-out of this Microsoft targeted marketing at choice.microsoft.com. At that site, you can choose to turn off personalized ads for your browser and your Microsoft Account.
Mind you, no matter what you choose you still see ads. The option merely chooses between ones relevant to your interests or wild guesses. If you decide to opt-out, do not be shocked to see ads for senior services even if you are in 20’s.
Ironically, choosing to turn off ‘Personalized ads in this browser’ does not work in Microsoft Edge, or rather, it does not stick. I have already brought this issue up with the Edge team, and a ticket has been created to fix it.
The important takeaway here is this: Microsoft is very open about what they are doing with your data. It is, however, a lot of data. Whether you are okay with that is a personal choice, which is why we will now walk you through ways of controlling your privacy and data.
Besides opting out of targeted ads through your Microsoft account, you can also adjust some settings in the Edge browser.
- Open Edge Browser
- Tap the ellipsis button at the top right corner (the ‘…’ button)
- Choose Settings
- View advanced settings
Here you can find a few privacy options that you can toggle on or off. Specifically:
- Offer to save passwords
- Save form entries
- Send Do Not Track requests
- Have Cortana assist me in Microsoft Edge
- Show suggestions as I type
- Cookies: Block all, only third parties, or don’t block
Technically, all of those pose some privacy risk. However, only the Do Not Track (DND) requests and ‘block only third-party cookies’ are the ones you should turn on to reduce ad tracking. Blocking all cookies could cause login issues on some sites, so be careful if you choose that one.
The rest, including saving passwords and word prediction, do send information to Microsoft. However, the convenience of using those services is hard to give up. Regardless, the choice is yours so think it through.
Microsoft offers many options to control your privacy settings in Windows 10. In fact, Privacy has its own section under Settings making it very obvious where to find these things. The notion that Windows 10 and by extension Microsoft is being dishonest in any way has yet to be demonstrated. Nothing is buried, and nothing is hard to understand. Sure, you may not like some of the defaults but that is another discussion.
For now, we are going to go through the various privacy settings in Windows 10. Here is where you can find them:
All of this is rather basic. Going down further, we can see no less than 13 pages dedicated to this topic. This abundance of options is both a reflection of the amount of data Windows 10 collects and Microsoft’s transparency in letting you turn things off. Here are those categories and what they do.
These are the main settings for your advertising ID for apps, SmartScreen Filter, how you write, and language settings. There is also a link to manage further your Microsoft Account settings that jump to the Microsoft Choice page mentioned earlier.
Users can safely turn off advertising ID for apps and language if they have a primary language. The typing one is a bit controversial as this helps with word prediction, which is crucial for mobile. However, if you are concerned, you can turn that one off as well.
SmartScreen Filter is probably best to leave on as it helps detect malicious websites.
The location info is critical for mobile devices as this how things like maps for GPS works. However, for your home PC it is not needed nearly as often. Under this area, you can turn off location for that device and even control whether location gets shared with other apps and services. Think of weather apps or restaurant finders.
Users can also clear their location history with a single button and choose which apps can use your location. There is much fine grain control here
Most computers these days have a webcam. Do you want the PC to access it? Toggle that switch here. Like location, you can also pick which apps specifically can access the camera.
Like camera above users here can enable or disable the microphone system wide. Users can also control access through each app that requests permission.
Speech, inking, & typing
This area is controversial. On the one hand, Windows 10 and specifically Cortana collect info like “contacts, recent calendar events, speech and handwriting patterns and typing history”.
At first blush, this sounds controversial. However, letting Cortana have access to your contacts and calendar is how the service enables you to send emails or reminds you of an appointment. Same thing with learning your voice patterns.
If you disable this function, you gain some privacy but lose out on Cortana. Choose wisely.
Have you noticed how some apps like MSN News show your Microsoft Account information and image? This section is where you can control that behavior. Most users want this universal login for apps, but not everyone trusts it. Switch it off if you do not want apps to access your name, picture, and “other account info”.
This one is self-explanatory. Control which apps can access your contacts. Things like Mail and Calendar, App connector, and Windows Shell Experience are the basics.
Like microphone and camera, this setting lets you enable or disable apps having access to your calendar system wide or on an app by app basis. Once again, App connector and Mail and Calendar are the basics here.
Windows 10 for PC currently has no way to send SMS or MMS messages through your phone. However, the feature is rumored to be coming later this year. Don’t like the idea of Windows 10 accessing your SMS messages? Disable it in this area. For now, however, this does nothing as there are no apps that utilize this feature.
Some apps evidently can control your Bluetooth or other radios. This section includes a system wide switch to turn it off or on an app by app basis. Currently, we do not see any third party apps that can utilize this feature.
This section is rather large. It lets you decide if you want your Windows 10 apps to “share and sync info with wireless devices that don’t explicitly pair with your PC, tablet, or phone”. Currently, this feature is not very active so you can likely turn it off for now.
Users can also control external cameras and USB access through other apps.