Windows 10 is watching you. To quote a famous Christmas jingle, “It sees you when you’re sleeping, it knows when you’re awake, and it knows if you’ve been bad or good.”
While Bill Gates isn’t going to come crashing down your chimney anytime soon, Microsoft’s latest operating system is undoubtedly harvesting more of your personal information than ever before. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on your standpoint.
If you’d like to get a better grip on your privacy, you have a few options available to you. There are native Windows tools like the Group Policy Editor and Settings app, but also third-party tools which are specifically designed to disable various aspects of the Windows telemetry.
If you want to stop Windows 10 spying on you (and make sure you get some Christmas presents this year), keep reading to find out more.
Native Windows 10 Tools
Let’s begin by looking at which privacy management tools are natively part of Windows 10.
1. Settings App
The easiest and most accessible way of managing your privacy on Windows 10 is to use the Settings app.
You can find the privacy options by going to Settings > Privacy. The number of settings you can change in the new Creators Update can be overwhelming for new users. The settings are split into a bewildering 18 sections.
Microsoft might argue all these settings are giving you a granular level of control. Critics would say the app is confusing by design — Microsoft doesn’t want you to disable all the privacy settings.
Working through each setting individually is beyond the scope of this article, but don’t worry, we’ve still got you covered. Check out our complete guide to Windows 10 privacy settings and you won’t go far wrong.
2. Microsoft Account Privacy Dashboard
At the start of 2017, Microsoft completely overhauled the Privacy section of your Microsoft Account online portal. Some of the new settings protect your online privacy, some of them protect your privacy while using Windows 10.
In a blog post, the company claimed it made the changes to “support [its] privacy principle of transparency.”
To find the new settings, head to account.microsoft.com and fill in your credentials. When you’ve logged into your account, click on the Privacy tab at the top of the page.
The settings are divided into five primary areas: Browsing history, Search history, Location activity, Cortana’s notebook, and Health activity.
From a Windows 10 perspective, you should focus on Location activity and Cortana’s notebook. Click on the corresponding link to see what Microsoft knows about you and edit or delete the data.
I have all tracking disabled on my main machine, but on my testing machine, I have everything turned on. It was frightening to see the amount of data Microsoft held.
3. Local Group Policy Editor
By default, the Group Policy Editor (GPE) is only available in Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise, and Education editions. It is not available in Windows 10 Home, though there are some workarounds to enable it.
At its core, the GPE is a powerful tool that lets you configure and control your system in much greater detail than you can achieve solely by using the Settings app. Because it’s so powerful, it’s a great tool to manage your privacy.
Best of all, you don’t even need to be a GPE guru to take advantage of it. You can grab a copy of The Group Policy Pack: Privacy and Telemetry for $108. It aims to block all Microsoft telemetry. The pack includes 70 policies with 250 Registry keys, deactivation of 40 background apps, scripts to remove pre-installed apps like OneDrive, and scripts to add entries to the hosts file and thus block telemetry servers.
If $108 is too much money (we didn’t test it either), you can create the scripts yourself. Of course, doing so is much more complicated and time-consuming for the average user.
Download: The Group Policy Pack: Privacy and Telemetry ($108)
If using the Group Policy Editor sounds too complicated, but the Settings app and Privacy Dashboard don’t give you enough control, you can turn to some third-party tools instead.
You’ll find lots of tools on the web, many of which we’ve looked at in detail elsewhere on the site. Nonetheless, here are three of the best.
1. Privacy Repairer
Privacy Repairer is a small portable app that takes its user interface inspiration from Windows 10.
The app is split into seven sections: Telemetry and Diagnostics, System, Windows Defender, Windows Store Apps, Cortana and Start Menu, Lock Screen, Edge and Internet Explorer, and Windows Media Player.
Within each section, you’ll find several settings you can tweak. Each one has a recommended setting along with a complete explanation of what effect the change will have on your system.
It also comes with a system-wide one-click privacy solution. Although the idea sounds nice, it might not be practical to make so many changes at the same time. Use the feature with caution.
Download: Privacy Repairer (Free)
2. O&O ShutUp10
O&O ShutUp10 is arguably the most well-known out of all the third-party privacy tools.
Like Privacy Repairer, the app is portable, comes with recommendations for each setting, and has a one-click solution that’ll change all the settings to the developer’s recommendation.
There are more than 50 settings you can tweak, and they are subdivided into Security, Privacy, Location services, User behavior, and Windows Update for easy navigation.
On the downside, it lacks the detailed explanations that you’ll find in Privacy Repairer. As such, it might not be a suitable tool for novices.
Download: O&O ShutUp10 (Free)
3. Spybot Anti-Beacon
Spybot Anti-Beacon is developed by the same team responsible for the anti-malware tool, Spybot Search & Destroy.
Its sole focus is Windows 10 telemetry. It’ll prevent apps from using your Microsoft advertising ID, block all P2P updates outside your local network, kill telemetry services, stop your computer from sending data to the Consumer Experience Improvement Program, and more.
Unlike O&O ShutUp10 and Privacy Repairer, there is no granular approach to the settings; you can either turn them all off or leave them all on. The single button — labeled Immunize — will take care of the protection process.
Download: Spybot Anti-Beacon (Free)
How Do You Manage Your Privacy?
Now you know about three native ways to manage your privacy on Windows 10, as well as a further three tools that go above and beyond the settings offered by the operating system itself. Using a combination of native settings and third-party tools will make sure Microsoft has no idea what you’re up to. By the way, you can also check if someone has snooped on your PC.