How-to: Stop Windows 10 Dialling Home Part Three

How-to: Stop Windows 10 Dialling HomePrevious instalments covered various security, telemetry and application settings that Windows regularly sends back to base.  How else can you stop  Windows 10 dialling home? This third part looks at  Microsoft Account and Sync.

Windows 10 wants to  you sign in with a Microsoft account to try to coral you within the Microsoft ecosystem of online services: Outlook.com, Office 365, OneDrive, Skype, MSN, and whatever services they assmilated  from last year’s acquisitions. This also enables online features of Windows 10 such as the the Windows Store and many  apps that require a Microsoft account. OneDrive accesses your files through File Explorer. Other cloud-syncing features require a sign-in. 

If you don’t need this, or you’re prepared to sign into services individually, you can choose to use a local Windows user account. It may be very 2003, but that’s when we last had any semblance of data privacy. Think about it.

There’s an increasing number of settings and preferences that Windows wants to sync via the cloud across all your devices (at least, those you tell it about), such as saved passwords, web browser history, bookmarks and the like. These are synced by default if you sign in with a Microsoft account.

You can turn off most of these under Settings > Accounts > Sync your settings.

Microsoft also tracks devices you’ve logged into with your Microsoft account. You can see this list at https://account.microsoft.com/devices.

Snooper’s Charter

“When you’re signed into your Microsoft account, Microsoft services like Bing, MSN, and Cortana personalize your experience.”

This is Microsoft’s way of letting you know that you’ll be profiled tighter than a serial killer on the FBI wanted list, with the objective of targeting advertising at every opportunity.

You can clear personal info and ‘interests’ in Bing, MSN, and Cortana from the https://bing.com/account/personalization page.

Whenever you search using Windows 10’s Start menu  – yes, on your desktop – or the Bing search in Edge, every search term contributes to a Bing search history tied to your Microsoft account. You can view and clear this history from https://bing.com/profile/history.

Windows Update, Windows Store, and Activation

Windows 10 Home demands that you install security, driver, and feature updates automatically. You can pause updates for a week, after that Windows Update insists on whatever interruption and vandalism it wants. The only other way to prevent it is to set your device connection as a metered connection so that Windows thinks updates will cost you money you didn’t authorise and you’ll complain to Redmond.

Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise editions have options for blocking or deferring updates.

The Windows Store automatically checks software versions to download new versions of bundled universal apps. Microsoft Edge, Cortana and the Start menu are all updated via the Windows Store. To disable automatic updates here, launch the Microsoft Store app and click the Options button (…) in the upper-right corner then choose Settings In the following screen, turn off the Update apps automatically switch in the App Updates section.

Lastly, Windows Activation checks in with Microsoft’s servers to ensure you’re using a properly licensed and activated version of Windows. The only way to disable this is through a registry hack that we won’t go into here. Disabling activation stops Windows phoning home, but it also starts the nagging and the progressive turning off of Windows features.

Believe it or not, these three posts barely scratch the surface of all the ways Windows 10 dials home. The amount of data it collects and aggregates is shocking when you look at it. You could always abandon Windows, but you’ll find the Apple ecosystem is equally covetous of any data you generate. And don’t think every version of Linux is a paragon of privacy either. Welcome to the connected world. AJS

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