Matt Powell On Jun 3, 2019
At first glance, the Digital Age may seem like a wonderful thing. And in many ways, it is. Advances in technology have provided humanity with many qualities of life changes in various aspects of our lives from optimization in commercial operations to an AI reminding you to take the lasagna out the oven because you’re occupied with your three kids.
However, unfortunately, the Digital Age is a double-edged sword. Just as technology has made life easier for us, it has also diminished personal privacy to an all-time low and made digital crimes easier to commit.
Hacking is becoming a more prominent problem with every passing year. Don’t believe me? Ask the Marriott hotel chain that had the personal information of up to 500 million customers compromised in a data breach last year. Or Equifax, a credit bureau that was the victim of a cyber attack that may have compromised the data of around 140 million Americans. Or ask any of the 12 countries that were the victim of cyber attacks by a Chinese hacker group. Cyber attacks that affected hundreds of companies and organizations, and went on for years. Scared yet?
Cybercriminals are getting smarter, and everyone needs to start taking measures to protect themselves online from malicious cyber attackers. It is 2019. VPNs were once highly recommended, but now they are all but mandatory for Internet use. Ad blockers are also a huge defense for consumers online. Amongst younger people, the use of ad blocks is typically to combat against the constant and annoying ads they see attached to YouTube videos. But that’s not all they do. You know how when you go to a website to read an article and your screen gets bombarded with a bunch of pop up ads? You try to exit out of them or go back to a previous page but keep getting redirected to the same ads? Ad blockers can help with that. Standard ad blockers don’t work on Hulu video ads, but hey, we can’t have everything right?
And don’t think for a second that it’s just the standard cybercriminal who is out to invade your privacy. The big tech companies who provide you with the technology you know and love have also gotten really nosy too. At the rate they are going, tech companies like Amazon will know your breathing and eating patterns. No one knows for sure what they do with our data (aside from selling it to third-parties for advertisement purposes), but they kind of want all our data and it’s really unnerving.
Luckily, the companies who try to invade your privacy also provide you with the means of maintaining your privacy, and it is important for you to know how to make your technology truly work for you.
Key privacy settings for Windows 10
Windows 10 was not well-received upon release for a number of reasons. One of those reasons that Windows 10 invades your privacy. By default. For this reason alone, people in the tech community put off upgrading to Windows 10 for years. But casual users likely have no idea how invasive Windows 10 is. That’s where we come in.
Windows 10 is (unfortunately) the best Microsoft operating system so far right now, so users are going to need to use it sooner or later. And if you don’t know how to keep yourself protected while using Windows 10, that’s where we come in.
Here’s how to keep your privacy intact and your data safe from cybercriminals and nosy tech companies.
1. Don’t choose the Express Settings Installation option when installing Windows 10
This point actually applies to all technology moving forward. Taking advantage of express options that take care of the process for you, strips you of your agency and can make you complacent. Tech companies cannot be trusted, and you have no idea what you’re agreeing to because you’re too busy enjoying not having to do anything. As stated earlier, Windows by default is looking to invade your privacy and harvest your data. When you install Windows 10, be sure to select Custom Settings and do everything yourself.
The next step is heading into your Privacy settings. You can do so by simultaneously pressing the Windows key and the I key. One thing to keep in mind here is that the following tips apply to general Windows 10 settings, but for apps, you will have to adjust a lot of the privacy settings individually. Keep that in mind before you download a bunch of apps or you’ll be in the settings more than the apps themselves!
2. Get rid of Cortana. Or at least restrict her.
Cortana from the Halo series of video games is pretty cool. Microsoft’s Cortana? Not so much. If you don’t want Cortana knowing all of your business, then you need to adjust her settings. If you want to shut Cortana out entirely, head into the Cortana Settings of your PC and select the ‘Clear Cortana Data’ option to leave Cortana completely in the dark.
If you’d like to have Cortana around in a limited capacity, simply uncheck the information that you don’t want her to know such as your contacts, location, communication history, and Internet history.
3. Turn off your location
Windows 10 automatically tracks your location at all times. They keep this information for up to 24 hours and can share this information with any third-party app that has location permission (Remember to adjust the privacy of your apps!) That’s a little too uncomfortable for my part, and for a lot of other people. You can prevent this by turning your location off in the privacy settings.
4. Get rid of ad tracking
By default, every Windows user has an advertising ID that tracks your browsing/shopping history. Windows sends this data over to their advertising partners and said partners use this data to personalize the ad campaigns directed towards you.
Sound kind of weird? You can turn off ad tracking by checking off for the option that says “Let apps use my advertising ID”.
5. Disable your camera access
For those of you who have played Grand Theft Auto 5, you remember the scene where Lester says he is going to reverse engineer a webcam and spy on those sorority girls again? That’s a real thing that can actually happen. It’s not hard to highjack a simple camera. Up until now, we have been discussing the invasion of your privacy online, but here, someone could actually see you personally if they wanted to. That’s terrifying.
Even Mark Zuckerberg tapes up his camera just as a safety precaution. You don’t need to go that far (Unless you want to), but you can at least turn camera access off for your device and apps in the privacy settings. A lot of people don’t even use their camera, so there’s no need to take on an unnecessary privacy risk. And if you ever need to turn it back on, that’s easy to do.
6. Disable microphone access
In case you were wondering, Mark Zuckerberg tapes up his microphone too. Now granted most people aside from politicians, secret agents, and business executives probably don’t need to go this far, more safety never hurt anyone right? If you don’t want to be an unintentional radio show host, turn off your microphone in your privacy settings to keep anyone from tuning in.
7. Manage your App Access
Head into the ‘Account Info’ tab of your privacy settings, and you’ll see that by default apps are allowed access to your name, picture, and other account info. Other account info being intentionally vague to keep users in the dark and as many exploitable loopholes open as possible. Do yourself a huge favor and close these holes up by turning this default setting off. As is standard, you can select individual apps to have access to your account info.
8. Get rid of Timeline tracking
Timeline tracking is Windows recording all of the websites that you have visited. Turn off timeline tracking in your privacy settings to keep this from happening. You obviously won’t browse the internet once and then never do so again, so you will have to do this regularly. You also need to manually delete your browsing history, but I am sure this is something most people are used to doing.
9. Fix your privacy settings after every major update. You have no choice.
What if I told you that after all the work you did on customizing your privacy settings, that you will have to do it all over again from time to time? Well, I am telling you.
Whenever there is a major update, Microsoft resets all privacy settings to default and it’s back to data harvesting they go. Sounds very consumer friendly right? Despite constant complaints about this, Microsoft has not fixed this annoyance.
What’s worse, is you probably have automatic updates turned on, which means a major update could occur, your privacy settings have been reset, and you will have no idea. Microsoft keeps users in the dark about all of this because of course, they do.
So, unfortunately, this process will not be a one-time thing. You can, however, fight back a little. There is a way to prevent automatic updates from occurring which means you can decide when you want to start this rodeo all over again.
Technology is a wonderful thing, but it’s also a huge pain. If you want to stay safe online, you will have to take a very active role in maintaining your privacy. It’s unfortunate that we cannot trust tech companies to behave themselves, but that’s just the way it is. It’s a nasty game, but now that you know the rules, you can beat them at it. Stay safe!