I was reading about the major update to Windows 10 that Microsoft just pulled because of it sneakily turning off your privacy settings. Which makes me wonder, where are they found, and in particular, what’s the deal with Advertising ID on Win10?
You’re correct that the “1511” version update to Windows 10 from Microsoft was pulled from production in mid-November because it was incorrectly resetting people’s privacy controls as part of the update, but it’s been fixed and supposedly there’s a newer update that not only doesn’t do this, but has a little tool to reset things if you did have them changed. As The Register describes it: “Basically, its operating system allowed apps to access people’s unique advertising ID numbers; the SmartScreen Filter that sends executables to Microsoft servers to analyze was enabled; software was allowed to run in the background; and settings and passwords would be backed up the cloud. If you previously disabled any of those, they would be reenabled by the MCT-derived upgrade over a previous Windows 10 install.”
But it’s more insidious than that, as Microsoft itself describes: “The advertising ID feature is turned on if the user chooses express settings when installing Windows.” Ah, okay, so by default your system is going to happily report your activities to third party advertisers so you can have a “better ad experience”. Privacy, anyone?
Turns out this was introduced in Windows 8.1, as Microsoft explains on its blog: “…in Windows 8.1 we include a unique identifier that can be used to improve the quality and relevance of advertisements displayed within Windows Store apps while providing other services such as analytics and app-discovery.”
Probably more than you wanted to know about Advertising ID, but that’s okay, it’s an Orwell idea: Knowledge is power!
To see what your settings are, go to the Windows 10 search box (aka “Cortana”) and type in privacy:
I’ll note that the first time I ran this search I didn’t get “Privacy settings”, so you might need to add “settings” to get the result desired. I suspect my Cortana was sleeping on the job the first time or something!
You’ll want to choose Privacy settings, which you can also get to by simply going to Settings and choosing “Privacy”. The “General” tab has all the options you’ll want to examine:
All the settings you want in one neat place. Handy, really.
The first one is Advertising ID and you can safely ignore the warning that “turning this off will reset your ID”. I don’t even know what it means. 🙂
The second option is SmartScreen Filter and that’s another one to seriously consider disabling. As The Register describes it, this is “sends executables to Microsoft servers to analyze”, though it’s described here as analyzing URLs you’re poised to visit to check for malware. Effectively this means Microsoft has a nice breadcrumb trail of every Web site you visit. Do you want them having that information?
The third is about predictive typing and, again, it’s sharing every word you type with Microsoft. Probably not what you want, whether they’re aggregating the data or not.
The fourth option is also a Web browser privacy issue, whether Web sites can query your system to find out what language pack or language packs you have installed in your Windows 10 system. Might not be a big deal – I have English and Spanish, personally – but it might be a privacy item you don’t want random third parties accessing without your knowledge.
Make the changes and you’re done. Or, while you’re at it, go to the last of the entries on the left, Background Apps and double check that you don’t have useless and uninteresting Windows apps that can run in the background and eat up your system resources:
Upon visiting this particular page myself as part of writing this, I opted to disable ESPN, Food & Drink and Amazon on this list. Why would they need to run in background and what would they be doing??
That’s it. And a great question. Privacy is something we’re all going to have to learn to be eternally vigilant about because companies like Microsoft are going to keep slipping up and trying to maximize revenue at the price of our own privacy and security.