2015 August

Windows 10 is watching you

Microsoft’s latest operating system has a lot going for it. It’s fast, responsive, easy to use, and more secure than ever before. Unfortunately it also takes advantage of the consumer’s assumption of privacy. And I can assure you that if you’ve just recently bought a new computer or tablet with Windows 10 installed then your information is absolutely not private. This is due to some of the philosophical choices made when Microsoft created Windows 10. The reasoning on Microsoft’s part certainly seems to be benign; they want to collect data on how you use your computer with the intent of making your experience more seamless. I’m reminded of an old saying about paths and good intentions.

So you’ve bought a computer with Windows 10 or recently upgraded to it. What can you do to regain at least a degree of your privacy back? Follow this guide and you will be in much better shape!

General Privacy Settings

  1. Left-click in the lower left-hand “Search Windows” box on your Desktop and type “Settings”. This will launch the settings panel for Windows 10.  Left-click Privacy and follow the screenshots below:
    1. Win10-1
    2. Win10-2
    3. Win10-3
    4. Win10-4
  2. Click the back arrow in the upper left-hand corner of the box to return to Settings, then select Update & Security > Windows Update > Advanced Options > Choose how updates are installed, and turn the first switch off.
    1. Win10-5
    2. Win10-6
    3. Win10-7
  3. Next select Windows Defender and turn off “Cloud based Protection” and “Sample submission”.
    1. Win10-8
  4. Click the back arrow in the upper left-hand corner of the box to return to Settings, then select  Network & Internet > Wi-Fi > Manage Wi-Fi settings. We will turn off both switches to disable Microsoft’s Wi-Fi Sense service.
    1. Win10-9
    2. Win10-10
  5. Microsoft has included their Cortana personal assistant service in Windows 10 and their new phone offerings, this is their response to Apple’s Siri. Unfortunately it is also used to provide unique information about you and your habits to Microsoft and their advertising partners. You can disable this feature by Left-clicking in the lower left-hand “Search Windows” box on your Desktop, and clicking the gear icon in the menu that pops-up. From here you will turn off both switches. **This will also improve the speed with which Windows 10 returns search result for items stored on your computer.
    1. Win10-11
  6. And now for one of Microsoft’s most egregious choices with Windows 10, disabling the built-in Data Collection and Telemetry services. What those terms effectively translate to is that Microsoft has built a keystroke and activity logger into the Operating System. Tolls like this are commonly used by less scrupulous people and/or groups to collect personal information in order to steal online identities, banking information, etc. It is a reasonable argument that Microsoft has no intentions of doing anything immediately wrong with the information that they collect in this way, but I and many other people take serious issue with a software vendor monitoring the habits and activities of its users for any purpose. It’s also worth noting that this information would be easily packaged and delivered to a government agency if subpoenaed. In order to disable these services press the Windows key (has the Windows logo on it) on your keyboard and the “X” key at the same time, then left-click the option for “Command Prompt (Admin)”. Then copy and paste the following commands into the prompt:
    1. sc delete DiagTrack
      sc delete dmwappushservice
      echo "" > C:ProgramDataMicrosoftDiagnosisETLLogsAutoLoggerAutoLogger-Diagtrack-Listener.etl
      reg add "HKLMSOFTWAREPoliciesMicrosoftWindowsDataCollection" /v AllowTelemetry /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f
    2. Win10-13
  7. If this is a new computer you were likely prompted to create a new account once you first powered it on, and if your didn’t pay especially close attention to the prompts you may have either created a new online Microsoft account or used an existing one to login to your computer. This configuration will now tie you computer to your Microsoft Outlook.com account and their other online services; inherently making your computer less secure and an even better way for a potential attacker to gain access to your personal information. Not to mention also allowing Microsoft to track the computer’s movements online and in the real world and relate that data to you personally. To resolve this issue go back to the Settings panel and select  Accounts > Your account and click on Sign in with a local account and following the prompts.
    1. Win10-14
    2. If this option is greyed-out for you then go to Sync your settings and turn off the switch in that menu. Then return to the previous step.
      1. Win10-15

Now, that was a lot of steps but once you’ve completed them you should be a lot further down the road to being more secure and regaining some of your privacy while still being able to take advantage of the most important functions of Windows 10. There will likely be more research done over time with this and and I will continue to update this guide accordingly. If you have trouble implementing any of these steps please feel free to contact me by clicking the button below. I’m always happy to help!