I’m just moving to Windows 11 (I know, I know, I’m late to the party) and am wondering what privacy settings I should enable or disable to protect myself for when I’m working on my PC? Thanks!
Like all modern operating systems, Windows 11 is big and complex. Programs are also far more sophisticated than they used to be, with advertising, tracking, and even shared user data so they can collectively track your activities more accurately. Ostensibly it’s so you have a better, more personalized experience, but if you want to be able to protect your privacy, there are definitely some features you need to enable before you proceed. Top among them: Turn on Windows Defender as the first tier of your anti-malware support. It’s free and from Microsoft, so no mysterious “annual service” bills via email (tip: all of those Norton subscription bills? They’re scams. Just delete them).
Then think carefully about the apps, games, and utilities you install. A whimsical new cursor might seem fun, but it’s a primary vector for sneaking tracking malware onto your computer. That free clone of a commercial game? It could easily be harboring some bad software that’ll be installed and then turn your PC into part of a botnet. It’s a dilemma because it’s fun to personalize your PC experience, I just suggest doing it with caution; a custom wallpaper or theme from Microsoft can still make your computer more aesthetic without exposing you to other risks.
With that in mind, let’s also look at a few system settings in Windows 11 that I suggest you change too!
SETTINGS > PRIVACY & SECURITY
Start out by going into System Settings (you can still get to it from the new Start menu, just look for the tiny gear icon) and then find “Privacy & Security” on the left side. A click and here’s what you’ll see:
One of the first settings to check out is in “General”, but you’ll need to scroll down just a bit to get to the “Windows permissions” section, as shown above. Once you do, click on “General” to proceed.
It’s not a bad idea to disable all four of these settings, but I definitely recommend that you disable “Let apps show me personalized ads by using my advertising ID” (otherwise everything you do online – even in apps – will be tracked and shared), and disable “Let websites show me locally relevant content by accessing my language list”. The latter is one that people don’t think about, but when you visit a Web site, do you want it to know that you have both English and Chinese, Spanish, or Russian installed? I don’t.
Tracking app launches – “Let Windows improve Start and search results by tracking app launches” – is fairly benign for most users and helps your Start menu to “magically” suggest your most popular apps, but for some people, that’s not something they want to be tracked either. Disable it and your PC won’t track that data. Finally, if you don’t want “Settings” to suggest content based on your previous settings tweaks, disable that too.
Now back up and scroll down just a bit further in “Privacy & security”…
This time click on “Activity history“.
DISABLE WINDOWS TRACKING YOUR ACTIVITY HISTORY
Not everyone will want to disable this but here’s what you see:
Probably your biggest concern would be if multiple people use the same PC without switching accounts; By having this enabled the next person can see exactly what you’ve done and even have your programs restart when they log in or restart the computer. The best strategy is to set up different accounts for different users (Settings > Accounts > Other users > Add New User). I leave this Activity History feature enabled since I like having my apps restart automatically, but it’s definitely one to consider.
One more setting to check. Back up in Settings and click on “Search permissions”.
DISABLE WINDOWS SEARCH PERMISSIONS
Here’s what you’ll see:
Another area where Windows is going to be keeping track of your use without most people realizing it. Do you want your PC to keep track of all your searches? Even more important, notice the very bottom info: “View and delete your search history in the cloud”. Definitely, something to click and check too, because you might not want your search history on a server somewhere else in the country, available for ‘aggregate data analysis’ and similar.
Microsoft also has a General Privacy Settings in Windows document that you might want to review too. Good luck, and enjoy your new PC!
Power Tip: I’ve been writing about Windows for many years and have an extensive Windows 11 help area. Please check it out to find lots of additional tutorials and guides while you’re here. Thanks!