Privacy is on the top of many people’s minds in today’s interconnected age. Windows 10 has many default settings and additions that take away from privacy and can lead to personal information getting into the wrong hands. There are several ways that Windows users can improve their privacy while still enjoying the features that Windows 10 has to offer. Here are the dos and don’ts for getting this set up.
- Use the Privacy Dashboard: The data privacy dashboard should be the first stop on the journey. This panel allows for a lot of control over the data that gets shared with Microsoft and how it’s used by the system. It’s straightforward and user-friendly, with clear information on what gets toggled off and on. There are many options here, and it takes just a click to toggle things off and on.
- Use a VPN for Internet Browsing: A Windows 10 VPN, or virtual private network, encrypts a browsing session and stops third parties from seeing what the user is doing online. It’s simple to turn on this application, so at the start of every browsing session, that can activate. This also helps a user have a better browser experience, as it blocks ads and malware from potentially collecting data or compromising the system.
- Change Cortana Settings: Many Cortana settings need access to private data, microphone information, and other sensitive data to offer a customized experience. The data collection that’s in place can be concerning, and it’s difficult to completely turn off this virtual assistant. Toggling off the settings that are concerning does a good job at stopping it accessing anything that’s not permitted. For users that want to use Cortana without compromising privacy, it’s important to fully understand the data that each setting collects and needs access to. It’s possible to balance privacy with usability with the virtual assistant.
- Turn off Location: The location services are particularly problematic in mobile Windows devices, such as tablets and laptops. It uses the GPS location for various functions in applications, and that information can be used in ways that the user doesn’t approve of. Stopping location tracking is easy enough to change from the Windows settings.
- Turn off Ad Tracking: Ad tracking leads to advertisers building a profile about an individual based on their actions online and in applications. Ad tracking can be toggled off, as that can be disruptive to the user experience. Ad tracking can also be disturbingly personal, depending on how much information they have on the person. By preventing this tracking, it also improves the overall privacy of the user.
- Control Cameras: Webcams are another way that a malicious actor could invade a user’s privacy. If the camera gets accessed, it can show the room and the person using the computer. Primarily, this is an issue for laptops and mobile systems. While some people take an extra step and put a physical barrier over the camera, it’s not necessary to go that far as long as the access is controlled on an operating system level.
- Create a Local Login Account: Windows 10 logins prompt users to create a Microsoft account, which is an online account. Tying a Windows computer to an online account can set up issues with data privacy, put the system at risk during a data breach, and is not an ideal solution. Users do have an option to create a local account, which does not require an internet connection and doesn’t share this information with Microsoft’s online services. These accounts function the way standard user accounts do in previous versions of Windows.
- Turn off Windows Defender: The built-in anti-virus and anti-malware solution that Microsoft includes in Windows 10 is a powerful tool for stopping malicious actors from hacking your computer and causing other problems. Keep this part of the operating system up to date and make sure that scans happen on a regularly scheduled basis. It will let the users know whether it detects any problems and attempts to fix the issues through quarantining and other defensive actions.
- Share Your Local Account Passwords: Avoid putting the local account password information in a location that’s easily seen, such as a post-it note on the monitor. This account is only as secure as the password, and if that becomes compromised, then someone can have full access to the system and the files contained on it. It’s also important not to share this information through email, instant messenger, SMS, or other communication channels.
- Sync Your Windows Devices Together: While having all of the Windows-based systems synced together might sound convenient, it can also cause privacy concerns if one of the devices gets stolen, lost, or otherwise compromised. Syncing is an opt-in system, so it’s not a setting that a user needs to change unless they have already connected all of their devices together.
- Use OneDrive: OneDrive has heavy integration in Windows 10, but that puts the files in a cloud-based system controlled by Microsoft. Sensitive information and documents could end up on their servers and out of the user’s direct control. In the even that those servers get hacked or otherwise get compromised, or someone figures out the Microsoft account password, all of these files are accessible. A third-party cloud-based storage option may be a better choice for people who want to have an off-site backup of their information. Look for companies that have strong security measures and are serious about protecting users’ personal privacy. Ensure that there are no data collection or data selling policies in place in the terms of service to ensure that the only person getting access to data and usage are authorized parties.
Privacy concerns come in big and small forms in Windows 10. The good news is that there are plenty of settings and configuration options to decrease the chances that someone’s privacy gets invaded. It takes some time to figure out the right combination of privacy protecting features and those that are legitimately helpful.
Petr is a serial tech entrepreneur and the CEO of Apro Software, a machine learning company. Whenever he’s not blogging about technology for itechgyan.com or softwarebattle.com, Petr enjoys playing sports and going to the movies. He’s also deeply interested about mediation, Buddhism and biohacking.