20 Settings to change in Windows 10 to Claim Your Privacy Back (2017 Guide)

You’ve been told over and over that Windows 10 is the best thing since MS-DOS 5, and you’ve finally broken down and updated your PC from Windows 8. I have to admit that the interface and overall experience of Windows 10 is much improved over 8.

But what about privacy in Windows 10? What’s changed?

It turns out that there are plenty of “convenience” features in Microsoft’s latest Windows release that look to monitor your every move on the Windows desktop in order to “improve the Windows experience.” 

Computer Screen with Windows 10

I don’t know about you, but I don’t even like my boss looking over my shoulder while I’m working. I sure as heck don’t want complete strangers monitoring and saving information about my every move.

Here’s a nice bit of info from the Microsoft “Privacy” website:

Finally, we will access, transfer, disclose, and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails in Outlook.com, or files in private folders on OneDrive), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary to:

protect the rights or property of Microsoft, including enforcing the terms governing the use of the services - however, if we receive information indicating that someone is using our services to traffic in stolen intellectual or physical property of Microsoft, we will not inspect a customer's private content ourselves, but we may refer the matter to law enforcement.

The Windows 10 default privacy settings leave a lot to be desired when it comes to protecting you and your private information. Whenever I set up a new computer or update a current setup for my family or job, I always carefully go through the privacy settings for each install, making sure to lock it down to make it as private as possible.

In this article, I’ll take you on a tour of those settings and show you which settings to change and how to do so to best protect your personal info.

In some cases, you will have to make a decision about whether to err on the side of privacy or lean toward letting Microsoft monitor some of your actions in favor of a more convenient computing experience.

#1 - Don’t Use the Express Settings When Installing Windows 10

If you haven’t yet installed Windows 10, or if you’re planning on buying a PC with Windows 10 already installed, do NOT use the “Express Settings” option when you do your initial setup.

Instead, select “Custom Settings” so you can take charge of locking down your privacy from the get-go. 

Windows 10 Express Settings

Selecting Custom Settings during setup of Windows 10 will allow you to adjust the settings that control how your private information is accessed by Microsoft.

Quick Tip :  If you’re not real hot on the idea of keeping a lot of your personal information and other data “in the cloud,” consider creating a local login account instead of using a connected Microsoft account.

Keep in mind that this will prevent you from accessing any files and such that you might have already stored in Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage.

#2 - Restrain Cortana

Cortana is Microsoft’s entry into the virtual-assistant sweepstakes.

Much like Apple’s Siri and Google’s imaginatively-named Google Assistant, Cortana is a voice-activated intelligent personal assistant. It recognizes natural voice input and can answer questions by accessing Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

In addition to performing searches, Cortana can also store and access personal information such as reminders, contacts, calendar dates and more.

A major drawback of the Cortana assistant is that it indexes and stores your information, both on the local computer and in the cloud. (This allows Cortana to synchronize information across all of your Microsoft devices.)

Windows 10 Cortana

Privacy advocates have long been concerned about the way Cortana gathers and stores personal user information. This has led Microsoft to allow users to somewhat control what Cortana accesses and stores.

However, what Microsoft giveth, Microsoft also taketh away.

As of the latest version of Windows 10 (the Creators Update is the latest as of this writing), the company has taken away the ability to toggle Cortana on and off.

Luckily, there is still a way to turn Cortana off, but it requires editing the registry and rebooting your computer.

For those not comfortable with dallying around in the Windows Registry, there are still ways to get Cortana to back off a bit from accessing everything you say or do on your PC.

1

Controlling What Cortana Can Do

It’s easy to limit how much access Cortana has to your personal data and make it perform more like the Windows search box of old.

You can prevent it from collecting information about your speech and handwriting patterns, as well as your text entry history. In addition, you can stop the assistant from sharing your usage history across all of your Windows devices.

To begin, click your mouse pointer in the Cortana search field, found in the lower left-hand corner of your Windows 10 desktop. Once the Cortana display appears, click the Settings icon, as shown below. The Cortana Settings will appear.

Windows 10 Cortana Settings

In the Settings screen, you’ll see a number of on/off toggles to control how Cortana works. I’m going to take a look at each toggle and tell you what it controls, and why you might want to set the toggle to “Off.”

Hey Cortana

Windows 10 Hey Cortana Off

When this toggle is set to on, Cortana is constantly listening for its summoning phrase, “Hey Cortana.” If this is toggled to “Off,” it won’t monitor your speech, possibly lowering the chance of your voice being monitored.

As a nice side benefit, your Windows laptop will last a bit longer when it’s running on battery power.

Lock screen

Windows 10 Cortana Lock Screen Off

If this toggle is switched to “On,” Cortana can be accessed even when your device is locked. If you so desire, Cortana can access your calendar, email, messages and other content data, even when your device is locked.

Toggle this to “Off,” and no one can access all of that data if you leave your computer turned on but locked.

Taskbar tidbits

Windows 10 Cortana Taskbar Tidbits Off

If this toggle is turned on, Cortana can chirp up occasionally to bug you with “thoughts, greetings, and notifications” in the Windows Search Box.

Heck, I’d turn this one off just on general principles.

Keyboard shortcut

Windows 10 Cortana Keyboard Shortcut On

If this one is toggled to on, you can press the Windows logo key + C to tell Cortana to listen to your commands.

If you decide to let Cortana hang around, this might be the way to go. It won’t listen for anything until you press the shortcut key combo.

Send notifications and information between devices

Windows 10 Cortana Send Notifications and Information Between Devices Off

If this is turned on, Cortana will notify you about what’s going on with your other Windows devices. This includes low battery warnings, phone calls, texts and more. With this toggled to “On,” Cortana is sharing all of that via the cloud.

If you’re a privacy proponent, you’ll probably want to turn it off.

My device history

Windows 10 Cortana My Device History Off

When this toggle is set to “On,” Cortana is allowed to collect search information about your app usage, settings and the history of all your connected devices that use the same Microsoft account. The company says it improves your search results on all of your devices.

If you turn this off, make sure to click the “Clear my device history” button.

My search history

Windows 10 Cortana My Search History Off

When this switch is toggled to the “On” position, Cortana can access your search history from all of your signed-in devices.

Turn it off. Your search history is nobody’s business but your own.

2

Setting Cortana’s Permissions

You can also control what data Cortana tracks and collects by adjusting its permissions in the “Notebook.”

Note:  Just because you disallow Cortana a permission on one computer or device, it does not change that permission setting on your other Windows devices. You’ll need to set permissions on each individual device.

To begin, click your mouse pointer in the Cortana search field, found in the lower left-hand corner of your Windows 10 desktop.

Windows 10 Cortana Permissions
Windows 10 Cortana Permission Settings

Once the Cortana display appears, click the Notebook icon, as shown below.

In the Notebook menu, click the “Permissions” menu option. The Cortana Notebook Permissions will appear.

Location

Windows 10 Cortana Location Off

When this switch is toggled to “On,” Cortana can collect and use your current location as well as your location history. It uses this information to offer location-based reminders, provide directions and offer information about nearby attractions.

While this can offer a more convenient and richer experience, it also means Cortana (and Microsoft) can access your current location and your previous locations. If you don’t like feeling like you’re being followed, disable this one.

Contacts, email, calendar, & communication history

Windows 10 Cortana Contacts Email Calendar Communication History Off

When this switch is set to “On,” Cortana has access to your calendar, email, contacts and text messages. The assistant uses this information to remind you about meetings, track packages and airline flights, and more.

It may be more convenient to leave this toggled to “On,” but it also opens up your contacts, calendar, email, etc. to the prying eyes of Microsoft. If you rely heavily on Cortana to remind you of upcoming events, you might leave this one turned on. Those wishing to err on the side of security will want to toggle this to “Off.”

Browsing history

Windows 10 Cortana Browsing History Off

When this permission is enabled, Cortana can collect and use your browsing history. It uses this to offer personalized suggestions and help you pick up where you left off on Microsoft Edge websites.

This also means it tracks everything you browse on the web. There’s that person looking over your shoulder I was talking about. I’d disable this one promptly.

3

Turn Off Cortana Personalization

To disable Cortana’s personalization, to stop data collection and to clear all of the data Cortana has associated with a particular device:

Windows 10 Cortana Personalization Off

Click your mouse pointer in the Cortana search field, found in the lower left-hand corner of your Windows 10 desktop. Once the Cortana display appears, click the Notebook icon, as shown below. In the Notebook menu, click the “About Me” menu option.

Select your Microsoft account by clicking on it. Click the “Sign Out” link.

When you sign out of Cortana on your computer, the data collected by Cortana associated with that PC is automatically cleared. Data collected by Cortana on other devices remains intact until you sign out of Cortana on those devices

4

Hide Cortana

If you’d like to keep Cortana completely out of your way, short of digging into the Windows registry, do the following:

  1. Right-click anywhere on the taskbar.
  2. Click “Cortana.”
  3. Click “Hidden.”
Windows 10 Cortana Hidden

#3 - Turn Off Ad Tracking

If you decided to go with “Express Settings” when you installed Windows 10, you can be sure the operating system is tracking your every move and mining your personal data for everything it is worth.

This includes supplying information to its advertising partners, who then use that info to show ads targeted at you, online and within Windows itself.

When ad tracking is enabled, Windows generates a unique advertising ID for each user, which is intended for use by app developers and advertising network to “provide more relevant advertising in apps.” Apps can access the ID and use it in much the same way websites access and use a unique identifier included in a cookie.

I should note that such tracking is nothing new, as Google and other search providers have been doing the same thing with cookies and information they collect from your web searches. (Which is why those foot fungus ointment ads are following you around wherever you go on the internet. You really should consult with your doctor about that.)

To turn off ad tracking, do the following:

  1. Click or tap the Windows Start button in the lower left-hand corner of your Windows desktop.
  2. Click or tap the “Settings” icon. (It’s that little gear just above the “power” button icon.)
  3. Click or tap the “Privacy” icon in the Settings menu.
  4. In the Privacy menu, click or tap the “General” menu option if it isn’t already selected.
  5. Turn off “Let apps use my advertising ID for experiences across apps,” as shown below.
Windows 10 Ad Tracking Settings

If you’re interested in protecting your privacy while using Windows 10, this is a great place to start. I would toggle all three settings shown in the screenshot above to the “Off” position.

These three options are:

  • hashtag
    “Let apps use advertising ID to make ads more interesting to you based on your app usage.” (If you turn this off, it resets your ID - which is a good thing.)

A note from Microsoft about this option: Turning the advertising ID off will not reduce the number of ads you see, but it may mean that ads are less interesting and relevant to you. Turning it back on will reset the advertising ID.

  • hashtag
    "Let websites provide locally-relevant content by accessing my language list."
  • hashtag
    "Let Windows track app launches to improve Start and search results."

#4 - Disable Location Tracking

When Location Tracking is turned on, Windows and its apps are allowed to detect the current location of your computer or device. This can be used to pinpoint your exact location.

This is especially handy for mobile devices, such as Windows tablets or Surface devices, due to location-based apps such as restaurant finders and navigation apps.

While it is a handy feature, it’s also a privacy-leaking feature that should likely be turned off if you truly desire to protect your identity on the web.

Shutting off this feature on your laptop is likely to have less impact than turning it off on a mobile device, due to the latter’s mobile nature and heavier use of location services.

I generally keep Location Tracking turned off on my desktop and even laptop devices. I use an iPhone for my daily calling and texting needs, and I leave location tracking turned on for my handset (but only for things like “Find My iPhone” and “Find My Friends.”)

By leaving both turned on for my iPhone, my wife and children know where I am at all times in case of emergency. And I, of course, know their whereabouts for the same reasons.

Windows 10 Device Location Settings

Location for a device can be either set for a device or just a particular user.

To turn off Location Services for a device, go to the “Privacy” section of the Settings app and click “Location.” Once there, click the “Change” button. Clicking “Change” and then toggling the “Location for this device” switch to “Off” will disable Location Services for all users of the device.

If the “Location for this device” switch is left to the “On” position, it will be left up to you whether or not Location Services are enabled for your login on the device, as shown below.

When the Location Service is turned on, as seen above, any app that is making use of the device’s location will display a unique icon, which looks like a dot with a circle around it.

Default Location

If location is turned off completely, skip to the next section.

If desired, you can also set a default location for those times when Windows can’t detect a more precise location. If you are leaving location settings enabled, and you’re on a desktop computer, this could be helpful.

Location History

If Location is on, Windows will store your location history “for a limited time” on the device, and any apps that use the Windows location information can access the history.

If you’re sensitive about sharing where you’ve gone in the past, press the “Clear” button as seen below to erase the location history stored on the device.

Note : Pressing the “Clear” button gets rid of the location history stored locally, but not in the cloud.

To clear the location info that may have been stored in the cloud, you’ll need to click or tap the “Manage my location info that’s stored in the cloud” link, as seen below. Windows will open a browser window where you can then erase your cloud location info.

Windows 10 Location History

Users can also specify which apps can access and make use of your location information. Any installed app that can take advantage of that information will be displayed in a list. Users can then toggle the app’s location access off or on, as they desire.

Geofencing

Geofencing uses GPS information, or local radio frequency information such as Wi-Fi networks or Bluetooth beacons, to create a virtual boundary around a location.

This enables devices and apps to offer you information, such as a special at a nearby restaurant, or a reminder to pick up your dry cleaning when you’re near the cleaners.

Windows 10 Location Geofencing Settings

While geofencing can be a valuable tool in day-to-day activities, it also uses your device’s location, which means it knows where you are and where you’ve been.

An app can use geofencing if Location Services are turned on for that app. So, adjust permissions accordingly.

#5 - Control Camera Access

Have you ever felt like someone was watching you? (And you had no privacy? Woh-oh-oh.)

My mother-in-law actually puts tape over the built-in camera on both her laptop and her tablet. (I guess I shouldn’t mock her - the word is that Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, also puts tape over his webcams.)

Camera access in Windows 10 can be easily controlled. Using the “Camera” menu in the “Privacy” section of the Settings app, you can completely turn off access to your computer or tablet’s built-in or connected camera. You can also set camera access on an app-by-app basis.

Windows 10 Camera Settings

General access by the system is controlled by the now-familiar toggle switch located just under the “Let apps use my camera hardware” label, as seen above.

For those of you who may have only skimmed the article, toggling a switch like this to “On” allows Windows apps access to that particular feature. Toggling it to “Off” disallows any access.

While camera access is a genuine privacy concern, I usually leave mine on for my account and turn it off under my kids’ accounts. While I prefer to set camera access on an app-by-app basis for my account, I feel safer with apps under my children’s accounts not having access to it.

If the toggle switch is set to “On,” you can control each individual app’s access to the camera by using each app’s associated toggle switch.

When turning camera access off for an app, it should be noted that this only prevents the app from directly accessing the camera hardware. It can still request to open the built-in Windows Camera app, which can only capture images or video when you explicitly allow it to do so.

Heck, maybe Zuckerberg has it right - just put a sticker or a piece of tape over the camera. If Edward Snowden is correct, the NSA has at least a couple of ways to spy on you via your computer’s camera. That same Wired report provides some links to a good number of fashionable ways to cover the camera. Yes, Hello Kitty stickers too.

#6 - Control Microphone Access

While allowing Windows access to your computer’s microphone - whether it be built-in, or the connected type - might not seem as much of a privacy issue as allowing access to the device’s camera, it can still be a touchy subject.

Windows 10 Microphome Settings

Just as with my Camera settings, I leave the “Let apps use my microphone” toggle switch to “On” and then decide which individual apps to allow to have access to the mic. It just makes sense to allow Skype access to the mic, while Photos and the Windows Store don’t really need it to function properly.

For this setting, I would say allow or block on an app-level basis. It will become clear to you after awhile which apps actually require access to your device’s microphone.

Mark Zuckerberg also puts a piece of tape over his laptop’s built-in microphone - so maybe you should get that roll of black tape out of the drawer, too.

#7 - Speech, Inking, & Typing

This section of the Privacy settings controls how you can use your voice to talk to Cortana, or applications you download from the Windows Store. It also uses your voice input to improve Microsoft’s cloud-based speech services. (So, yep. It sends your voice samples to the cloud.)

It also controls if Windows uses your typing history (and handwriting patterns on Surface devices and other tablets) to create a local user dictionary, which is supposed to make better text-entry suggestions for you.

Windows 10 Speech Inking Typing Settings

When this is toggled off, you can no longer speak to Cortana, and your typing and inking user dictionary will be cleared of data. Some speech services, those that do not rely on the cloud, will still work. Typing suggestions and handwriting recognition using the local system’s dictionary will also still work.

Toggling this setting to the “Off” position will aid you in your effort to improve your privacy, but it will also lead to the loss of some features you have become used to.

As seems to be the way of the online world these days, you’ll need to walk the tightrope between convenience and privacy.


A Quick Note About App Access

Before we examine the settings that control what kind of access Windows apps have to your personal data - such as Contacts, Calendar, Account Info and more - let’s take a look at a statement from Microsoft about such controls.

Exceptions to the privacy settings

Desktop apps won’t appear in your Choose apps that can use/access/control/read my [Capability] lists and are not affected by the Let apps use/access/read my [Capability] setting. To allow or block desktop apps, use the settings in those applications.

How can you tell if an app is a desktop app? Desktop apps are usually downloaded from the Internet or installed with some type of media (such as a CD, DVD, or USB storage device). They’re launched using an .EXE or .DLL file, and they typically run on your device unlike web-based apps (which run in the cloud). You can also find desktop apps in the Windows Store.

Basically, what this means is that any app you install yourself, be it downloaded from the internet or installed from a CD - or yes, even a floppy - is not beholden to respect your Windows data access settings. As always, be damned careful about installing apps from unknown sources.


#8 - Control App Access to Your Account Info

This setting controls whether or not to allow apps to access your user information. Such information includes your name, photo and “other account info.” (Thanks for the details, Microsoft!)

Windows 10 Account Info Settings

Toggling this setting to “Off” blocks access by any apps. Toggling it to “On” allows controlling access to such information on an app-by-app basis. Microsoft claims turning off Account Info access for an app may not allow it to work as intended.

When the option is set to “On,” you’ll see a listing of apps that might need Account Info access. You can turn that access on or off on an individual basis. I suggest contacting the developer of any app you might have questions about and query them as to what type of Account Info the app uses.

#9 - Control App Access to Your Contacts

Guess what the Contacts toggle switch does?

No, it doesn’t have anything to do with that sticky paper your Mom used to line her kitchen shelves with. This switch decides whether Windows apps will have access to your Address Book.

Windows 10 Contacts Settings

If you toggle this one to “Off,” it blocks all apps from accessing your Contacts. Toggling it to “On” allows you to designate which apps get the golden ticket to access your Uncle Al’s phone number. (It’s a landline. Uncle Al rolls old-school.)

As with the Account Info toggle, if you turn this off completely, or on an app-by-app basis, it may cause some apps not to operate as intended. This is another subject you should contact the developer on for any app you might have questions about.

#10 - Control App Access to Your Calendars

This should be getting somewhat familiar by now. This switch controls app access to your Calendars. When it’s toggled to “Off,” it turns off all app access to your Calendar info.

When it’s turned on, then you get to decide which lucky Windows app gets to look through your upcoming dates. (And I use the term “dates” loosely. “Dinner with Uncle Al” is not a date.)

Windows 10 Calendar Settings

What you do in these settings depends on how you use your computer and the various apps that might need access to your Calendar information.

I myself did some experimenting with the settings until I found a level that offered a mixture of privacy and convenience that I could be comfortable with.

#11 - Control App Access to Your Call History

Windows Privacy settings also control an app’s access to your call history. If you turn this off, it disallows all apps from accessing any of your call history information. Turn this on, and you can set access to said info on an app-by-app basis.

Windows 10 Call History Settings

Personally, I keep this turned off. I don’t make any calls via my Windows computer, or a Windows Phone, as I use an iPhone to make calls. However, your mileage may vary, and you may find you need to control this on a granular level.

#12 - Control App Access to Your Email

I don’t know about you, but access to my email, both personal and business-related, is a touchy subject for me. I barely trust any email provider not to monitor my inbox, let alone other apps.

My email is my lifeline to the outside world. Virtually all of my communications with business associates, as well as friends and family, usually pass through my inbox. I am very protective of the years of information that bit of storage holds. (I’m reasonably sure I still have the first email I ever received in my first Gmail account years ago.)

Windows 10 Email Settings

I turn this one completely off - but if you have a specialized app that actually needs access to your email, then you might want to do things on an app-by-app basis.

#13 - Control App Access to Your Tasks

Tasks can be another sensitive subject with me. My daily tasks list is the bible I build my day-to-day work life on, and I’m touchy about anyone gaining access to this information. (Heck, if I didn’t have to, I wouldn’t even share the info with my boss, but…)

Windows 10 Tasks Settings

As we’ve seen with similar groups of settings, turning this switch to “Off” shuts every app out of your tasks information. Leave it on, and it’s your responsibility to look through the app list and decide which apps really need access to the list.

It should be noted that the built-in Mail and Calendar apps will always have access to your tasks, no matter what settings you decide on, which makes sense.

#14 - Control App Access to Your Text Messages

I don’t do much messaging via Windows. Most of my messaging is performed through my Mac and iOS devices. However, I do use Skype on my Windows PC, so this setting matters a bit in my case.

Windows 10 Messaging Settings

On this screen, you can either go all the way, turning off messaging access for all apps, or leave general access turned on, and decide on an app level as to which apps really need access to your text messages.

#15 - Control App Access to Your Computer’s “Radios”

When I say control access to your computer’s radios, I don’t mean the one it uses to listen to Cubs games during baseball season. The radios we’re looking at are the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi transmitters your Windows computer uses to connect to networks, accessories and other devices, such as beacons.

Windows 10 Radios Settings

Allowing access to your computer’s radio capabilities has some fairly significant privacy implications. By enabling access, you could leave yourself open to tracking via your Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals.

Access to radios are also used to share information, like files, messages and other centrally located info, so turning off app access may be ill-advised. However, unless you’re aware of a particular app you use that requires this access, I’d be inclined to advise you to turn it off.

#16 - Control App Access to Your Computer’s “Other Devices”

This part of the Privacy menu allows you to pick and choose how apps share and sync information with those devices that do not already specifically pair with your computer. As usual, you can turn it off completely, or leave it on and pick and choose which apps are allowed to share info with those “other devices.”

Windows 10 Other Devices Settings

You’ll want to be careful which apps you allow to sync with other devices; this could represent a bit of a security hole if the apps are playing fast and loose with your personal data.

If you’re in doubt, contact the developer of the app. Any reputable developer should be more than happy to explain what the app might share.

#17 - Control Feedback & Diagnostics

This is where you control how much diagnostics and usage data Windows will phone home to Microsoft.

The Redmond firm doesn’t allow users to turn it completely off, so the best you can do here is click the “Basic” radio button to send the minimal amount of data possible back to the mothership.

Windows 10 Feedback Diagnostics Settings

Toggle off the switch right below the “Let Microsoft provide more tailored experiences…” paragraph. There’s no reason to be sending that info.

The final option in this section is how often to allow Windows to ask you for feedback. While some people are generous with their time, others just don’t want to be bothered.

You can set this for “Never” (my favorite) or allow it to ask you for feedback anywhere from once a week to “Automatically.” If you’re a sharing kind of person, go ahead and let them ask for feedback to their heart’s content. As for me, I prefer to keep it to myself.

#18 - Control Background Apps

This section allows you to decide what apps, if any, will be allowed to run in the background, quietly sending and receiving information, offering notifications and updating themselves, even when they’re not being actively used.

Windows 10 Background Apps Settings

You can turn off background apps completely or select one-by-one which apps will be allowed to sit in the background, sending info and eating up precious processor cycles and battery life when you’re out and about.

I don’t know how you feel about things, but I don’t think Candy Crush needs to be running in the background. Pick and choose wisely, my friends.

#19 - Control App Diagnostics

In this final section of the Privacy menu, the user is required to decide whether or not to allow apps to access diagnostic information about other apps. Microsoft says some apps use diagnostic information from other apps to run as intended.

Windows 10 App Diagnostics Settings

Information that could be accessed includes the user account that launched an app, as well as the app’s memory, CPU, disk and network usage (we are already “sharing” too much info…).

While I know sharing is caring, I say turn this one off. If you find an app that previously had access to this information isn’t operating as it should, then turn it back on for that single app. Otherwise, avoid this one like the plague. (I particularly don’t like the whole “who launched the app” bit of info it collects.)

#20 - Manage Privacy Settings in the Edge Browser

Microsoft Edge is the default browser in Windows 10. It replaces the venerable but long-overdue-for-retirement Internet Explorer as Microsoft’s browser of choice.

Microsoft says Edge is clean, lightweight and fast. But nowhere do they mention that it is more secure.

In this section, we’ll take a look at the Edge browser and which settings require a closer look in order to protect your privacy. I’ll guide you through the settings and discuss what they control, and how they should be adjusted to offer complete privacy.

To access Edge’s privacy settings, run the browser and then click the three dots (“...”) found in the upper right-hand corner of the browser. In the menu that opens, scroll down until you find the “Settings” option. Click that.

Windows 10 Edge Browser Settings

The settings I’ll be showing you reside in the Settings and the Advanced Settings areas of the Edge menu.

1

Clear Browsing Data

While you’re in the Settings menu, scroll down until you see “Clear browsing data.” Click the “Choose what to clear” button.

Windows 10 Edge Browsing Data

In the “Choose what to clear” menu, you’ll see options for what you can delete from the Edge browsing data. Default things to clear include: browsing history, cookies and save website data, cached data and files, tabs that have been set aside or recently closed, download history, form data and passwords.

Windows 10 Edge Browsing Data Clearing

Clicking “Show more” will display additional clearing options, including media licenses, pop-up exceptions, location permissions, full screen permissions, webcam and microphone permissions, notifications permissions and Adobe Flash permissions.

Windows 10 Edge Browsing Data More

Select the browsing data you’d like to clear and then click the “Clear” button. You can also toggle the “Always clear this when I close the browser” switch to “On,” and then Microsoft Edge will automatically clear the selected information each time the browser is closed. This is a great idea for the privacy-inclined, yet forgetful users among us.

What you select to clear here is mostly a choice between convenience and privacy.

I myself always click the following to clear it: browsing history, cookies and save website data, cached data and files, download history, form data and passwords. This makes it a bit tougher for hackers, government agents and other bad guys to track my browsing habits via the Edge browser.

I also click Location permissions, and webcam and microphone permissions. I don’t click Flash permissions because I disable Flash running in the browser. Flash is a notorious security hazard and also uses excess power. There is really no reason to run Flash in today’s online world.

2

Advanced Settings

In the Settings menu, you’ll see a section labeled “Advanced Settings.” Click the “View advanced settings” button. This will open the rest of the privacy options available in Edge.

Windows 10 Edge Browsing Advanced Settings

In the Advanced Settings menu, users can control a number of privacy-related options. This section also includes non-privacy-related options, but I’ll only be covering the options that affect your privacy. I’ll list each one and then offer my thoughts on which way you should decide on each feature and explain why I think that way.

Block Pop-Ups

This should always be left on. Pop-ups are a security hazard - and if nothing else, they’re incredibly aggravating to the user.

Windows 10 Block Pop Ups Setting

Use Adobe Flash Player

This one is, and always will be, a strong NO!

Flash is a resource-waster and one of the biggest security hazards around. Flash Player absolutely screams “come get me” to the bad guys. Always leave this one set to “Off.”

Windows 10 USe Adobe Flash Player Setting

Proxy Setup

I’ve discussed proxies in other articles on this website. Basically, a proxy is a second party that takes web-related requests from you and passes them onto the target website. It then returns the requested content back to your computer, without ever revealing your actual IP address.

While proxy servers can be a valuable privacy tool, I’ve always recommended using a VPN server if possible, as it also encrypts your data in addition to acting as a middleman. If you don’t have access to a VPN, a proxy server is a decent alternative. Be sure to make use of this feature.

Offer to Save Passwords

I keep this one turned to the “Off” position. I have never been a fan of keeping passwords stored in a browser. I prefer using a password-manager app. They are much more secure, as most password managers encrypt the stored information.

Windows 10 Offer to Save Passwords Setting

Save Form Entries

Again, I keep this one turned off, as stored-form entries can consist of your personal info. This includes your name, address, phone number or even sensitive information such as banking info.

Stored information like this is used with the autofill feature for online forms. I don’t use that feature either. Who knows what other information is being requested by hidden fields on a web form?

Windows 10 Save Form Entries Setting

Send Do Not Track Requests

I keep this one turned on. This allows your browser to tell websites you don’t want your browser activity on their sites to be monitored. Sure, websites aren’t required to honor this request, but more and more of them are complying with such requests.

Windows 10 Send To Not Track Request Setting

Have Cortana Assist Me in Microsoft Edge

I set this one to “Off.” The less you have to do with Cortana, the less information is being sent to the Microsoft servers.

Windows 10 Have Cortana Assist Me in Microsoft Edge Setting

Search in the Address Bar with…

Bing is Microsoft’s default search engine, and when you enter a URL for a search term in the address bar, it is sent to the Bing servers.

If you don’t want to send your search and other info to Microsoft for tracking, use DuckDuckGo or another search engine that doesn’t store their users’ search info. Click the “Change search engine” button and use a privacy-oriented search site.

I always use DuckDuckGo, but it’s up to the individual how much privacy they want to give up for the sake of added convenience.

Windows 10 DuckDuckGo Setting

Show Search and Site Suggestions as I Type

If this is set to “On,” everything you enter is sent to the Microsoft servers for analyzing in order to return suggestions. More fodder for the Microsoft marketing engine. Therefore, switch it off.

Windows 10 DuckDuckGo Setting

Cookies

Here, you can select  “Block all cookies,” “Block only third party cookies” or “Don’t block cookies.” Cookies can be useful while browsing, as they save your login session and preferences for websites. However, they can also be used to track your travels around the web for advertising purposes and such.

It’s your call on this one. I usually set it to “Block only third party cookies,” as that allows websites to still save session cookies, but doesn’t allow advertisers to track me around the web.

Windows 10 Cookies Setting

Use Page Prediction to Speed Up Browsing, Improve Reading, and Make My Overall Experience Better

Nope. Turn it off.

This is designed to improve your browsing experience by preloading links found on the web page you’re currently viewing. This means websites could possibly set cookies in your browser just as if you had actually clicked the link to their website.

This a privacy drawback, and it’s not needed in today’s world of fast internet connections.

Windows 10 Page Prediction Setting

Help Protect Me From Malicious Sites and Downloads with Windows Defender SmartScreen

If this is enabled, it helps detect phishing and other malicious types of websites, helping to protect you against the bad guys getting your personal information and from downloading or installing malware.

As the feature sends your browsing data back to Microsoft for analysis, this is one of those times when you have to decide whether or not to allow a bit less privacy in the favor of protecting your personal data and protecting your computer from malware.

Windows 10 Defender SmartScreen Setting

I err on the side of protection, and I keep this turned on. You should too.

Action Steps


We’ve covered quite a bit in a short time, but by following a few simple rules, you can lock your Windows 10 installation down to offer excellent protection for your privacy, while still making the most of the operating system.

1

Never Use the Express Settings Option When Installing or Upgrading to Windows 10

That also goes for setting up any new computer you might purchase that runs 10. Express Settings is just another way to ask, “is it okay if we plunder your personal information for profit?”

2

Lock Down Cortana

If you’re comfortable enough making changes to the Windows Registry, I suggest turning off Cortana completely and going back to the old school “Find” level of Windows search.

3

Control What Cortana Has Access To

The more things you let her “help” with, the more information that gets sent back to Microsoft.

4

Turn Off Ad Tracking

Never allow Microsoft or anyone else to track your activities on the web. 

5

Disable Location Tracking - Especially on a Laptop

While some mobile devices require location-tracking for Maps and navigation apps, there really is no reason for Windows on a laptop to need this.

6

Control Camera and Microphone Access

This is an especially sensitive subject for computers used by kids. If you have to, put a piece of tape over the camera and mic. Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best.

7

Control What Information Windows Apps Can Access

If left to its own devices, Windows will let apps decide for themselves if they need access to your account, contact, emails, tasks and other personal info. Don’t let them have it.

8

Lock Down the Privacy Settings in the Microsoft Edge Browser

Just like Cortana, Edge will monitor your actions for all that it’s worth if it isn’t made to do otherwise.

Well, as you can see, there are a lot of settings you need to keep track of if you want to reclaim your privacy on Windows 10. Luckily, if you’re willing to invest the time, your work will pay dividends when your privacy is on the line.

Leave a Comment