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Windows 10 Privacy: What You Need to Know

October 28, 2015

Windows 10 offers a lot of improvements over Windows 8: compatibility across all Microsoft devices, better search functions, and Device Guard, which provides extra protection against malware — all in a free upgrade. But Windows 10 also shares more of your data with Microsoft than ever before, and it’s designed to make it very difficult for you to change that. Avoid clicking that “Get Windows 10” tab at the bottom of your taskbar until you understand what you’re giving up — and how to get it back if you want to.

Microsoft 10’s New Privacy Policy

The Windows 10 user agreement gives Microsoft unrestricted access to your data, and overly broad permission to use your personal information. Under Reasons We Share Personal Data, the Privacy policy says:

“…we will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary…”

As a security company, “good faith belief” is a really low standard in our book. Microsoft doesn’t need proof of wrongdoing, or even strong evidence. If they believe you’re breaking the law or somehow infringing on the rights of Microsoft or their customers, they can access anything on your computer, and disclose it. Considering Microsoft once poured through an unconnected blogger’s email to stop an internal leak, this doesn’t bode well for Windows 10 Privacy.

Microsoft Express Settings

It may seem harmless—convenient, even: Microsoft gives you the option of setting up Windows 10 using express settings. Don’t do it! Many of the most egregious Windows 10 privacy violations are things you can stop by choosing Customize Settings. If you’re serious about privacy, you should turn off all the customization settings on the first page, under Personalization and Location, and on the second page under Browser and Protection and Connectivity and Reporting.

Still wondering what to look out for? Here are some of our least favorite default privacy settings on Windows 10:

1. Default Advertising ID

Windows 10 assigns an identity to each user to help advertisers track you. The advertising ID tracks what sites you visit, what files you download, your location data and queries, and much more. You can turn it off (along with other intrusive settings) under the Personalization tab during setup.

2. Cortana’s Search Tracking

Windows 10 automatically activates a digital assistant called Cortana that works like Apple’s Siri or Google’s Now. While that might sound nifty, by default, the digital assistant will track your clicks, speech, and typing. As cool as this feature is, many don’t consider that worth having it track you. Not on board with Cortana’s tracking? Hit the Start button and start typing to pull up a search window. Click the gear icon for settings, and turn off the switch under Cortana.

3. Wi-Fi Sense

Depending on how Windows 10 is configured, it can share your WiFi password with any Outlook, Skype, or Facebook friends or contacts who are within range, and store your WiFi password and other info on Microsoft’s servers. Like other features, it places convenience ahead of privacy, automatically allowing WiFi access at your house, and adding your WiFi credentials to a database. Disable it by turning off both switches under “Wi-Fi Sense” during setup.

Other Hidden Settings That Impact Windows 10 Privacy

Many of the worst Windows 10 privacy settings are hidden in menus that aren’t accessible during setup. For example, when you turn off the option to “send error and diagnostic information” during setup, it only reduces the amount of diagnostic info your computer shares with Microsoft. To turn it off completely, select Settings > Privacy from the Start menu. Turn Feedback Frequency” to “never” and Diagnostic and Usage Data to “basic.”

Even more importantly, you should use a local account instead of a default Microsoft ID. This can circumvent Windows 10 data sharing, since you won’t be automatically logged into a Microsoft server every time you turn on your computer. Go to Settings > Accounts to setup a separate local account.

Windows 10 Makes Encryption More Important Than Ever

Microsoft isn’t restricting Windows 10 privacy out of evil intent; they envision a future that’s in the cloud, and want to integrate your devices seamlessly with each other and the internet. Unfortunately, the way they implemented this does not show enough concern for your privacy or security. While this doesn’t bother some people, many other users will have a problem with lack of privacy in their computer.

Virtru can give you a portion of privacy back with convenient, military-grade email encryption. It secures emails with a single click, ensuring that the only the people you choose can read the messages you send. Virtru Pro gives you even more control, with advanced features allowing you to revoke emails, disable forwarding, set expiration dates and more. Get Virtru, and enjoy the convenience of the cloud without sacrificing your privacy.

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