Windows 10 and Privacy: what you need to know

Much has been said about the privacy – or, rather, lack of – in Windows 10. Well, don’t worry about it, it is much ado about nothing.  Most of what’s been written is FUD or a poor understanding of what you can do in Windows 10. 

There are a couple of features in Windows 10 that seem to be causing the confusion: Cortana’s ‘learning’ you and WiFi Sense.

First, Cortana.

This just amazes me.  People can accept Siri on an iPad or iPhone and think nothing of it.  Same for Google Now. Yet, put Cortana on the desktop and people freak out. Doesn’t make sense: Cortana is doing the same thing that Siri and Google Now do. It sits there, learning what you browse, remembers what you search and gets to ‘know’ you.  What do you think Siri does? Heck, going to Google.com for your searches is just as intrusive. Use gmail? Well, guess what…Google reads your messages, looking for keywords to serve up more ads.  Oh, and it is looking for things that might trigger legal action too.  Just ask the guy who got nailed for pornographic pictures in his mail.

Never fear, though…you can turn off Cortana if you are still reluctant to use the feature. Goto Settings, Privacy and tap/click Speech, inking and typing.  Here, you can click/tap ‘Stop getting to know me’ and that will stop Cortana from learning and monitoring what you do.  While in the Privacy settings, you might want to turn off the following: Camera, Location, Microphone and everything in General. You will, of course, kill most of the functionality of many applications, but you will protect the little bit of privacy you may have left.

Yes, I am being sarcastic.  Turning off most of the features I mention will render things like Bing search, Google search and even maps, useless. 

Now, that doesn’t mean that EVERYTHING is OK.  On a desktop, with no touchscreen, there is no need to let Microsoft know how you write, so you can turn off that feature in Privacy->General. Also, you should turn off that bloody ‘Advertising ID’.  Finally, click the ‘Manage my Microsoft advertising and other personalization info’ link and change those settings accordingly. Want personalized ads? then don’t do anything, but, if you don’t want ads about panty hose showing up your Facebook timeline because your wife searched for them, then turn this off.

WiFi Sense

WiFi Sense is a feature that debuted with Windows Phone 8.1.  It does a lot, but nothing very scary.  If on, it will fill in, with bogus stuff, those nag screens in public wifi hot spots. It can ‘click’ the I agree buttons on those pages.  It maintains a list of hot spots and can map them for you.

More importantly, however, it allows you to give friends access to your home network with out giving them the password.  They MUST be using Windows devices for it to work, it will NOT work with, say, an iPhone.  And, it does not ‘give’ anyone your password. Once they leave, their device no longer ‘knows’ about your network.

Still worried?

Go through the settings application.  You will want to look through the privacy settings. Many are on by default, some are off, like Cortana. You do not have to let it even start collecting your data.  Simply reply ‘no’ when asked. You are asked the first time you search for something in Windows.

Wifi Sense can be turned off and you will still be able to use hotspots, but will have to give your friends your password.  It is YOUR decision.

Windows 10 is no more a privacy problem for you than anything else and, at least, you can control how much or how little privacy you keep.  Unlike with Google.

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Your online privacy: Facebook

So, one of the more egregious violations of your online privacy was done by Facebook.  A while back, they very quietly changed their privacy settings and, as a result, left most users wide open.  Photos, personal information, etc. was available to pretty much anyone. Users had to go and manually change the settings.  Facebook took so much flack over this (and Mark Zuckerberg’s famous quote stemmed from this) and implemented new and improved privacy settings.

Those settings are pretty straight forward and Facebook provides a public setting, a friends setting, friends of friends and a custom setting.  Choosing the custom setting gives you more flexibility. For example, I don’t care if Jane Public knows I live in Richmond, but would not want my photos made available.  You can fine tune these settings.  You  can choose who sees any of your posts, comments, likes, photos and just about anything else you post on Facebook.

Where things get dicey are with the games and applications.  Things like Farmville will ask to have access to your wall.  They also gain access to all of your contacts, so your friends now become targets for these applications and games and will get invites and other status updates from the applications.  Some people won’t mind while others will.

fbprivacy1Fortunately, you can block some or all of the applications. At the bottom of the ‘Choose Your Privacy Settings’ page is the Block Lists link.  Click on that and you will see the block settings.

This page lets you block users and application invites and events.

While Facebook says they simplified –and they have – the privacy settings, they are still pretty daunting to fumble through.  It is pretty safe, however, to select ‘Friends’ and let that be your default.

One other feature that Facebook implemented recently will let you download EVERYTHING you have done on Facebook. It will give you back your photos, all of your posts AND, more importantly, all of your mail and instant message logs.  It’s pretty scary what Facebook saves, so, the best advice I have, don’t post anything that you would be embarrassed by having Facebook save.  I would encourage you to download your stuff at least once, just to see what Facebook saved.  You can do so by going to your Account Settings, clicking the ‘learn more’ link next to ‘Download Your Information’ and follow the directions. It takes about thirty minutes for it to gather your stuff. It will email you a link to download the file.

fbprivacy2

Facebook’s privacy settings are far better now than they once were and following a few simple things will help guard your privacy:

  • Change your privacy settings to at least Friends
  • Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want family and friends to see or know
  • Download your stuff to see just what Facebook saves
  • Be careful when playing games, taking quizzes (some of them want to charge your cell phone, so read all of that small print first before accepting anything)
  • Never accept a friend that you do not know

Facebook is a great site and a good tool for re-connecting with friends and family. I have re-connected with some folks that I never thought I would see or hear from again.  A little prudence will go a long way in protecting your privacy.

 

Note: Facebook has a page that will explain the various settings. You find that here.

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