Since its introduction, Windows 10 has come under a fair amount of heat for various privacy issues.
Depending on what you read, and what’s been uncovered, it does appear that not all the privacy-related issues are necessarily in your control.
However, much of it is, and much of it begins when you install or update Windows 10.
As with many other setups and installs, the “secret” is to never accept default or express settings, and always choose to customize.
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Installing Windows 10
I’ll begin by simply installing Windows 10.
In reality, there’s nothing particularly special about this step in the process. Boot from the installation media or run the update utility, and Windows 10 setup will begin to do its thing.
After the standard “choose your language and keyboard” dialog that begins the process, you’ll be greeted by the familiar Install Now button, your opportunity to enter your product key, the license agreement to which you must agree, possibly a choice between an upgrade or clean install, and so forth.
As I said, if you’ve ever installed Windows before, this is pretty standard stuff.
Then things get interesting.
Don’t “Use Express settings”
You’ll eventually be greeted with a screen titled “Get going fast”.
The goal here is to have you accept all the default settings listed by clicking on Use Express settings.
Take a few minutes, instead, to read through what you’d be agreeing to if you did.
- You’ll send your calendar and contacts to Microsoft, along with a relatively vague “other associated input data”.
- You’ll send your location information to Microsoft and other “trusted partners”.
- You’ll send your browsing history and information to Microsoft.
- You’ll automatically connect to open hotspots and shared networks.
Now, an argument could be made that, with the exception of automatically connecting to hotspots – a new feature that I covered in How do I turn off Wi-Fi Sense (and what is it?) – these are things that either Microsoft or your equivalent service provider have quite possibly had access to for a long time. For example, your mail provider knows your contacts, and your ISP knows your browsing history. That’s simply a necessary side effect of providing their services.
This, however, feels like more information, and more concentrated with a single entity – Microsoft – and it has many people concerned.
Choose Customize settings
In very light text at the lower left of this screen is a link to Customize settings.
Click on that. You’ll be taken to a screen where you can make individual choices about various privacy-related options.
For maximal privacy, turn them all off, and click Next. This screen includes additional privacy-related settings.
Once again, I recommend turning them all off, with one exception. Personally, I do allow SmartScreen to remain enabled as an additional level of security against malware and malicious sites. This does involve letting Microsoft in on your browsing history, so if that concerns you, turn it off as well.
The other setting, at least on my screen, is unintentionally hidden. As you move your mouse over the screen, you might notice something appear (and disappear) on the far right.
What you’ll notice is a scroll bar. Its presence implies that not all the content is visible on the screen, and you need to scroll down to see additional options.
In my case, I needed to scroll down in order to expose the on/off setting for sending error reports to Microsoft.
I choose to leave that on, but you may, of course, turn it off to avoid sending this information to Microsoft.
Keep an eye out for disappearing scroll bars – they may indicate that there’s more to look into than what’s on your screen right now.
Click Next, and setup will resume.
Using or not using a Microsoft account
After answering whether or not you own this machine or a corporation does (I’m going to assume that you own your own machine), you’ll be asked to “Make it yours”.
The email address and password you provide are that of your “Microsoft account”, if you have one. You’re also given the opportunity to create one, should you not already have one.
There are pros and cons to using a Microsoft account.
- This will become the login for your machine, and it will be associated with your online account.
- Certain features, like Cortana, OneDrive, and the Microsoft Store, require the use of your Microsoft account.
- You’ll be able to change your login credentials – like your password – without actually needing access to your machine.
- You may be sharing even more information with Microsoft about how and where you use your computer.
- It’s yet another online account to manage.
Needless to say, many are concerned, and choose to operate without a Microsoft account. To do so, click Skip this step, found in smaller text and fainter colors at the bottom left. You’ll then be asked to create a local machine account, as in previous versions of Windows.
Enter an account name, password, and password hint, and then click Next.
Windows then moves on to the next phrase of its setup process.
And after a short while, Windows 10 is ready on your machine.
The privacy issues around Windows 10 are as important as they are murky.
On one hand, these are often issues that we regularly accept on other platforms, with other companies and using other technologies, without so much as a second thought. It’s very possible – likely, even – that the information collected here really is used to improve our experience with Windows, as well as to make Windows a better operating system for everyone.
On the other hand, in Windows 10 Microsoft seems to be taking information gathering to a level never before seen in their flagship product, while also perceived as being less than transparent about what is collected, whether we opt out or not.
Regardless of the outcome, it’s important to be aware of the choices made available, even if they’re not the default, and make our own decisions as to how much we want to share.