Security

Worried about Windows 10 snooping? Here's how you can stop it

Attempts to stem the quantity of data that Windows 10 gathers on users continue to this day. Here are the options available if you're uncomfortable with how much data the OS hoovers up.

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It's been just over a year since Windows 10 launched but the OS has been unable to shake accusations it collects far too much data about users.

The amount of information Windows 10 sends to Microsoft has not only drawn stinging criticism from civil liberties groups, it prompted French authorities to order Microsoft to reduce data collected by the OS under threat of a fine.

This week saw the release of yet another tool to stem the flow of information back to Microsoft.

Fix Windows 10 Privacy is the latest in a long line of similar software designed to simplify the process of stopping Windows 10's data gathering.

Debate continues over exactly what data Windows does collect. There are those who have pointed out that while Windows 10 does connect many times to Microsoft's servers, that it only sends at most a few megabytes each day, small enough to assuage some fears of widespread data collection. That said the encrypted nature of much of the telemetry means users can't know exactly what's been sent.

Then there is Microsoft's double standards when it comes to Home users. While Home users can only drop the level of data collection to "Basic" level, users of Enterprise, Education, and IoT core editions are able to reduce data collection further, to what Microsoft calls the "Security" level.

According to Microsoft, the "Security" level is the bare minimum necessary to keep Windows machines "protected with the latest security updates", which has prompted some to ask why other editions are stuck with the more chatty Basic level of telemetry—which collects data on security settings, quality-related info (such as crashes and hangs), and application compatibility.

With Windows 10's plethora of services that rely on an internet connection to work, from OneDrive storage to the intelligent assistant Cortana, it's perhaps little surprise that the OS shares so much data by default.

That said if you're uncomfortable with the amount of information Microsoft is collecting— a reasonable position given the voracious appetite that companies, governments and hackers have for personal data— then here are some steps that you can take.

Lock down your settings

Unfortunately for those who want to minimise Windows 10's information gathering there's no big button you can hit to turn it all off.

The settings to disable information gathering are spread across the OS, making shutting it down a bit of an endeavour.

Fortunately for those with the patience, there are plenty of guides on how to disable the most intrusive aspects of the OS, including this comprehensive offering over on ZDNet.

Use third-party tools to block snooping

While Microsoft scatters its settings for blocking data collection throughout Windows 10, there are a plethora of tools that allow users to block snooping with a single, or at least fewer, clicks.

That said, there can be a downside to using the plethora of scripts and software out there, in that they can stop certain Windows 10 services from working as expected, and even install their own third-party adware.

If you fancy going down this route, however, one tool that generally seems to be well-regarded is O&O Shut Up 10.

The downside, as with changing the settings yourself, is there is only so much these tools can do to limit information sharing and Microsoft can override some of the protections with its next Windows 10 update.

Ditch Windows for a Linux-based OS

The surest way to avoid Windows 10 hoovering up your data is to switch away from Windows altogether.

While Linux-based operating systems might have enjoyed a reputation for being difficult to use in the past, many modern Linux distros are simple to install and should be familiar to any Windows users.

A popular and easy-to-use distro is Linux Mint Cinnamon Edition—which includes a wide range of software that average users expect, from a web browser to office software. You can download the latest release here and find out more in this ZDNet review.

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About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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