An Easy Fix For Windows 10 Privacymageddon

Windows 10 is Microsoft’s best operating system in a quite a while, and possibly ever, despite a few foibles. Trouble is that it really, really wants to get mixed up in all your business and then tell the highest bidders all about it – which may or may not be why an upgrade to it from Windows 7 or 8 is currently free. Most of the OS’s monitoring can be turned off, but it’s a bit of a hassle and Windows 10 is far from transparent about what it all does. There is now a quicker method of raising your blast shields, if you so wish.

It should be said that the privacy and advertising controversies surrounding Windows 10 don’t concern everyone. Some folk prefer to see ads which reflect their interests, rather than entirely irrelevant ones, and aren’t concerned about in theory anonymous data on their computing habits being brought and sold, given just how many other parts of the internet already do it. There’s also been no small amount of breathless exaggeration about how intensive the snooping is – bear in mind Google and Facebook, to name but two, having been having a good old sniff around what we get up to for years now. It’s important, however, to have both awareness and choice. Windows 10 in its current form is extremely opaque on these issues, leaving it to others to help people understand and, if necessary, deactivate anything they’re uncomfortable with. Not that matters are any better on your smartphone, but hey, this is a PC site.

There are various methods of tinkering with Win 10’s privacy settings kicking around by now, but this one was quick and easy enough that I’m very comfortable recommending it here. It doesn’t take out everything, but it’s a damned good start. It’s a 549KB freeware tool called ‘Ultimate Windows Tweaker 4.0‘, developed by one Paras Sidhu for TheWindowsClub.com, and whose primary purpose is simpler access to assorted Windows settings and tools which are otherwise scattered far and wide across the OS, or even hidden entirely. Crucially, it also includes a Privacy tab, like so:

Clicking on any of those options will tell you what it does, and nothing’s enacted until you hit Apply. You can also re- or de-activate as required, if something misbehaves or you’re worried you’re missing out on something useful. Be sure to create a System Restore point before you do anything, just in case.

The only two of these options which will very visibly affect Windows 10 is Taskbar Bing Search and Cortana, which if on will quickly show results from the web as well as local files from Win 10’s built-in search function. Given most of us are in a browser all day long anyway, that’s stuff often redundant, but I can understand how it’s useful for some.

The biggies to disable, to my mind, are Telemetry, which is the one which tracks some general usage of the OS and Disable and reset advertising ID, which is what leads to targeted ads, at least within Microsoft applications and apps from the Windows store.

If you’re particularly worried about those personalised ads, you should also go here and set all options to off if you haven’t already.

The other tabs and options in Tweaker are worth an explore too, if you’re into customising or want to snip away a few annoyances, but I’ll leave you to browse that for yourself.

67 Comments

  1. Humppakummitus says:

    This is very welcome. It’s pretty much my only concern with Win10 at the moment, except some backward compatibility stuff.
    I wish there was a tool like this for Spotify…

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      Trouble is unless someone works out how to disable windows update for the now always updating 10 MS can circumvent this any time they please and you have to rely on third party tools to catch and block what they do as well as making sure you’re keeping up to date with the latest versions of the blocking program.

      • frymaster says:

        yes, but this is just aggregating the options MS provide to the user. If MS starts silently resetting privacy options, you’ll hear about it fairly quickly

      • skittles says:

        What I find entirely dumb about this situation is that there is NOTHING new here. Some slight changes to privacy that makes it a little worse. But other than that everything here is in previous versions of Windows. Now MS just make it more obvious though, and allow you to turn some of it off. I don’t see people getting shitty with Apple and Google who do much the same sorts of things, without the turn off option. Particularly Apple. MS have made their privacy and options BETTER with Win10, not worse as some people seem to think.

        The only real problem is of course the automatic updates, that is a real annoyance.

        • Ieolus says:

          The difference, in my mind at least, is this is the operating system doing the crap.
          I can choose another browser, another phone, but if I want to use Windows going forward, this is it.

    • 10min says:

      If you use this tool, or another alike, you are a criminal, the same as if you pirate software. You are breaching the contract.

      But MS will undo any change you attempt, using windows update, and will know what you did, your name, location content of your bank account, the video of you doing that, the exact keys you pressed…

      • Premium User Badge

        Dukey says:

        Except these are all setting that are already available to the user aren’t they? As far as I can tell, this tool just makes them easy to access and puts them in one place.

  2. shaydeeadi says:

    Microsoft collecting some middling amount of optional data is the least of my worries with Windows 10 currently. Both of my Roccat mice stopped working yesterday and no amount of driver updates fixed it. Grrr.

    • FuriKuri says:

      You may want to give this a shot to manually remove problematic drivers for specific usb ports, it’s saved me in the past:

      link to nirsoft.net

      Download link is quite far down the page.

      • shaydeeadi says:

        It happened overnight though which makes me think an update broke them. No issues for 3-4 weeks post updrade and then this. I had to walk down and buy a new mouse last night. But thanks I will check that link once I get home from work.

    • subedii says:

      That’s actually kind of funny. Not at you specifically, but this whole windows thing has lead me to invest a lot more into Linux Mint, to the point where I’m using it for my main OS now and dipping less and less into Windows (even for gaming).

      The funny thing is that to that end I was looking up what mice had best compatibility, and it turns out Roccat came highly recommended. Apparently they had the best Linux compatibility and helped work with the community to get decent support for their mice. So that’s what I’m using now. Plugged it in and all the buttons worked first time.

      • subedii says:

        Pseudo EDIT: I’d be lying if I said the experience has been without hiccups, but in general it’s been a lot less painful than I thought it’d be.

      • gwathdring says:

        I was all over Ubuntu but then Cannonical started grabbing search histories from the OS so now I’m trying out Mint, too.

        • Mercurial says:

          Viz Ubuntu sending information to Amazon. One click in settings in 14.04 switches it off. Also they were upfront as to why they did it. Unlike Microsoft.

  3. Asurmen says:

    Choice is good. I like choice. Not bothered about some of the tracking personally but other people are and that’s what counts

  4. cpy says:

    Meh, i like destroy windows spying better. Also windows 7 and 8.1 got updates that spy on users same as W10 does. Just to stay in picture. Conspiracy on W7 and 8.1? I have 2 words for that: KB3075249 and KB3080149

    • James says:

      Yeah, I noticed that a few weeks back. After an update on 8.1 my anti-virus threw a tantrum when it designated the update a ‘medium intrusion risk’, then when Windows tried to take a look at some word documents my anti-virus quarantined some of the files from the update. Naughty Microsoft.

    • slerbal says:

      Yikes. Gits.

    • bill says:

      Grr. So now i have to check if i have CEIP disabled on my pc when i get home? Yay for more work. Thanks microsoft.

    • SuicideKing says:

      KB3080149 seems harmless to me.
      link to support.microsoft.com

      • Premium User Badge

        Phasma Felis says:

        “Telemetry” is the word Microsoft has recently picked to use when they want to say “we’re recording everything your computer does” but don’t want you to know that’s what they mean.

    • Martel says:

      Thanks for this

    • Nixitur says:

      Thanks for that information, this kind of BS is exactly why I install none of the optional updates.
      At least they don’t enter these as “Important updates”, so that everyone gets them.

    • Bagpuss says:

      Turns out (cos I just checked, TY btw for the headsup, I’ll have to keep a much closer eye on things, well not really anymore.) 5249 was listed as an ‘optional’ update…. Just as well I don’t install optionals, it’s still sitting in my update ‘to do list’.

      All updates have been turned off, and tomorrow I install Linux.

  5. Jeeva says:

    With regards to telemetry, I’d be interested to see what this program is doing to block it, as setting the standard GPO to 0 does nothing different to setting it to 1 unless you’re on Windows 10 Enterprise (and the various “block everything on hostfile” approaches are flawed for other varying reasons).

    • All is Well says:

      I was thinking the same thing, actually. Most of these seem like settings that are available either in the Settings app or in the group policy editor. It’s nice that it’s all collected but it would have been equally nice with some documentation as to what the options actually do. I can’t find any on the page/in the program.

    • cpy says:

      Wait a minute, what do you mean hosts file block does not work?

  6. Premium User Badge

    Don Reba says:

    Now wait for Windows Defender to mark it as malware.

  7. slerbal says:

    Good to know, but yeah I’d like to know if turning off telemetry in this actually turns off telemetry.

  8. davec1 says:

    Would love a IT security person’s opinion on the risks of an OS, that has all that information gathering and -communicating built right in. As a laymen, it sounds like a recipe for disaster, creating lots of avenues to exploit these features, but maybe I’m missing something? MS isn’t who I’m most worried about.

    It just reminds me of that car manufacturer’s glorious idea of exposing all it’s critical systems to wifi access (was on WIRED a while ago).

    • davec1 says:

      edit: it’s “its”, actually, or “its car’s”, to be more precise ;)

      • Premium User Badge

        Don Reba says:

        You also have an “a” instead of “an” before “IT,” a superfluous comma in “OS, that,” a stray dash in front of “communicating,” and the dangling participle “as a layman.”

        • Asurmen says:

          Why are your commas used for seperating out the items in your list contained within the quotation marks? :P

          • Premium User Badge

            Don Reba says:

            US style (also used in Canada) puts commas and periods inside quotations even when they are not part of the quoted phrase.

          • Asurmen says:

            That’s plain…weird. Silly people making up their own rules to my language :P

      • Premium User Badge

        Don Reba says:

        Also “laymen” instead of “layman.” You are welcome!

        • davec1 says:

          …while as a non-native speaker I find the meticulous listing of errors in my original post very enlightening, I hope you don’t mind if I point out I’d have appreciated a reply that focuses on the content of said post rather than its form even more.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      I’d guess in a normal business environment, most reports, automatic uploads and stuff are deactivated centrally via group policy to conserve bandwidth. External cloud service traffic can be stopped by central proxy/firewall settings.
      In a high security setting Windows 10 would probably not be used.
      Anyway the biggest security risk is always the user.
      Regular IT opinion not really “security expert”.

      • gwathdring says:

        That’s the weird thing about Windows 10. They’ve nerfed a lot of the control even the enterprise edition has over some of these features. It’s really bizarre that they would jeopardize such an important market share ….

    • gwathdring says:

      That’s what I’m most worried about, too. Even if I had complete faith in Microsoft (I don’t; I’m definitely ALSO worried a bit about them), I still wouldn’t trust any of the people they sell this shit to or that they’re storing it securely.

  9. Kein says:

    You people never learn do you?

    None of these settings matter, Windows 10 will keep sending a lot of data back and forth.

    • Duckeenie says:

      We are not worthy of your presence here almighty one.

      • subedii says:

        Despite the tone of the post, he’s unfortunately right. It’s been shown that switching off all these settings actually doesn’t stop this stuff all being sent to MS (I believe arstechnica did a report on that, amongst a whole load of other sites).

        From what I’ve been reading there’s no actual way to stop the W10 from doing this apart from literally using a firewall to block at the IP level (there are some allegations that blocking the relevant IP addresses in the Hosts file is also being ignored by the OS).

        • gwathdring says:

          Several key IP addresses in their monitoring process don’t seem to care about your host-file according to my networking buddy. :\

  10. Eproxus says:

    There’s also these two projects for the slightly tech-savvy:
    link to github.com
    link to github.com

  11. XhomeB says:

    But, but… that tool might be a spyware, too for all we know.
    That’s it, I’m quitting internet. The only way to be sure.

  12. Bagpuss says:

    Telemetry is just every day activity, there still isn’t an option to prevent harddrive trawling and info colation which is my biggest problem with the OS.

    I’m not touching Win10 with a bargepole, I’m off to Linux after Win7 dies.

    Alec, you ‘seem’ to have looked into the OS at some depth, would it not be a more helpful article if you were to inform your general readership of the things you can’t turn off?

  13. somnolentsurfer says:

    Is there anything that will reenable the Guest account yet? So I can let someone else use my machine without giving them access to my stuff…

    • Premium User Badge

      Don Reba says:

      Just create an account for guests. What’s the problem?

    • gwathdring says:

      It’s almost always better to create a normal user account for guest purposes and use parental controls or local group policy to restrict it’s permissions. Guest accounts have a lot of weirdness and hobbling that is undesirable and don’t allow you to control some things that you should be able to control. I’ve never liked guest accounts and while I suppose it’s possible they’re perfect for your particular situation, I would strongly recommend looking into parental controls and/or local group policy for Windows instead.

  14. SuicideKing says:

    My main problem is forced restarts and no control over which updates to install on Win 10 Home.

    Disable Windows Update sharing, which isn’t a privacy thing but does very quietly use your bandwidth to speed up other folks’ downloads of Windows updates.

    Bad advice. There’s an option from the settings menu to set this to LAN only, which is what you should do if you have multiple Windows 10 PCs in the house.

    • gwathdring says:

      Worse still, even on Enterprise you can only defer for “a few months”. You can’t actually control deployment completely.

    • frenchy2k1 says:

      Yes. Came here to chime in on this.
      The goal of this option is to allow one computer to send the update to other local computers, this way, your household will only download a patch once, *saving* bandwidth.

  15. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Wouldn’t really use third party tweakers. Usually they mess up the registry and are the cause of problems much later. (TuneUp Utilities come to mind)
    Regarding privacymageddon: the majority of users voted for syncing WLAN-credentials with Android as a standard or syncing pictures to cloud (apparently standard with Iphone might be wrong).
    Apps like say paypal or all those free games grab all data they have access to and upload it server-side without notice.
    So as long as I can opt-out of everything I wouldn’t say Windows 10 for desktops is the new standard in spying and privacy undermining.
    People coming from Win 7 who don’t own a smartphone are in for a leaking, I agree.

    • gwathdring says:

      In their policies they make it fairly clear that it’s not opt-out while simultaneously trying to make you feel comfortable should you choose to opt-out and trust their self-contradictory language.

  16. racccoon says:

    If you really want to dig deep use this..
    Godmode:
    Shows all links to all areas of the Win10 System.
    Right click desktop make new folder
    then find folder in desktop rename
    GodMode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}
    Then click the folder after which
    All the areas that need attention are open to you to close or leave.

  17. LaRock0wns says:

    Be very careful with this app. Plenty of reports of people with issues, like not able to log back in to the system, after using it.

    • Shadrach says:

      And that’s why you always create a restore point before doing this sort of thing.

  18. Shadrach says:

    I love that this exists, tweaks like these are the first thing I do in any new Win install, going back to the old TweakUI in XP.

    I basically disable anything unneeded, as well as stopping services I don’t need, like Print Spooler (don’t have a printer).

  19. OmNomNom says:

    Meh, they can spy on me all they like. I’m not that interesting.

  20. 10min says:

    None of those tools give any guarantee, and none can fix the basic root of the problem, which is that the EULA and Windows Privacy Statement is a contract.

    Microsoft has the contractual RIGHT to
    -Get your information, and your property.
    -Use your information and exercise property rights over it, for profit.
    -Install any software in your computer, without your consent or control (your consent is granted once and for ever in the contract).
    -Use your computer for any purpose, like a bitcoin farm, because MS right to install non removable software implies the right to run and use your computer for any purpose.
    -The right to deny you the knowledge about what does the software installed (MS is explicit in which will not disclose the purpose of what it installs).
    -The right to add more rights and obligations, because MS can change any clause of the contract at will, for any purpose that suits MS interests.
    -The right to enforce the therms of the contract. MS has the right to impede you from trying any way of difficulty MS collection, and use of your property and privacy.
    -Microsoft has the right to undone any change you make.

    Also, the contract do not give to the user any right to control what MS does. MS do not have any obligation to obey any monkey-lever in the OS (like the dozen of privacy “choices” offered in Windows 10). The privacy “options” are there only for decorative purposes.

    If you try to block MS from doing that, you are a criminal, because you are impeding MS to exercise his rights.

    Once you sign a contract, you have the obligation of non impeding the other part rights.

    A lot is said over the annihilation of the human right to privacy, but this is also an attack on the human right to property, because an unelected corporation breaks into your property, takes anything it wants, and use it in any way it wants.

    Your private folders are your property. They have economic value. icrosoft is explicit in which those will be taken, used, shared and disclosed. If you have an original work (like a book you wrote), MS can take and sell it.

    Another thing in the contract minefield is the use of the wording “we”.
    Most people innocently thinks that “we” means Microsoft, but, unless stated otherwise, “we” in a contract are all the parts.

    So, when the contract says “we will do XXX”, it is saying that MS, as the executive part, is acting in name of the user.
    It concedes unrestricted rights to Microsoft to act in the name of the user. MS can sign new contracts on your name.

    For example, If you wrote a book, or designed an invention, MS can take it, patent or copyright it acting in your name, and sell it, without you even being notified, giving to MS all the benefits.

    • Premium User Badge

      Don Reba says:

      Once you sign a contract, you have the obligation of non impeding the other part rights.

      Nobody signs that EULA. Besides, you can challenge the contract in court even after agreeing to it.

      • cuxowokani says:

        You can challenge anything in court, but that doesn’t mean that you will win.

        By the way, you absolutely sign the EULA. You don’t need to physically sign it to legally sign it.

        For example, read the “Microsoft Services Agreement” -MSA- (which is part of Windows 10 EULA, because it links to the MSA:

        You accept these Terms by […] THROUGH YOUR USE OF THE SERVICES, or by continuing to use the Services after being notified of a change to these Terms.

        So, you are signed into the contract even if you do not use any Windows version, but you at least ALLEGEDLY use any Windows service.

        Note that if any process in your computer at least ALLEGEDLY uses any MS Services, you got signed on the EULA.
        Windows runs lots of process which use any MS Service. For example, the xbox app (you cannot remove it, and it runs in the background). Every time you use the taskbar search, it does a bing search, even if you disabled cortana and web search.

        The list of MS Services is listed in the EULA (but is not restricted to that list, because any other contract can legally link to it and make it part of itself, like Windows 10 EULA does.

        This is the list today:
        Account.microsoft.com
        Advertising.microsoft.com
        Arrow Launcher
        Bing
        Bing Apps
        Bing Desktop
        Bing Dictionary
        Bing in the Classroom
        Bing Input
        Bing Maps
        Bing Navigation
        Bing Reader
        Bing Rewards
        Bing Search app
        Bing Toolbar
        Bing Torque
        Bing Translator
        Bing Webmaster
        Bing Wikipedia Browser
        Bing.com
        Bingplaces.com
        Choice.microsoft.com
        Citizen Next
        Cortana
        Default Homepage and New Tab Page on Microsoft Edge
        Device Health App
        HealthVault
        Groove
        Maps App
        Microsoft account
        Microsoft Family
        Microsoft Health
        Microsoft Translator
        Microsoft Wallpaper
        Microsoft XiaoIce
        MSN Dial Up
        MSN Explorer
        MSN Food & Drink
        MSN Health & Fitness
        MSN Money
        MSN News
        MSN Premium
        MSN Sports
        MSN Travel
        MSN Weather
        MSN.com
        Next Lock Screen
        Office 365 Consumer
        Office 365 Home
        Office 365 Personal
        Office 365 University
        Office Online
        Office Store
        Office Sway
        Office.com
        OneDrive
        OneDrive.com
        OneNote
        Onenote.com
        Outlook.com
        Picturesque Lock Screen
        Pix Lock
        Skype
        Skype in the Classroom
        Skype Manager
        Skype Qik
        Skype WiFi
        Skype.com
        Smart Search
        Snipp3t
        Spreadsheet Keyboard
        Sway.com
        Translator
        UrWeather
        Windows Live Mail
        Windows Live Writer
        Windows Movie Maker
        Windows Photo Gallery
        Xbox and Windows Games published by Microsoft
        Xbox Live
        Xbox Music
        Xbox Music Pass
        Xbox Video

        Note: allegedly means that to act in “good faith”, MS only needs to allegedly “believe” that you used the Services.

        In case of “error”, you can challenge MS in court, but read this:

        “if you have any basis for recovering damages, you can recover from the application publisher only direct damages up to the amount you paid for the application or $1.00, whichever is greater. You will not, and waive any right to, seek to recover any other damages, including lost profits and consequential, special, direct, indirect, or incidental damages, from the application publisher.”

  21. cuxowokani says:

    If you are lazy, and want to read only one paragraph from the EULA, read this single yaw breaking piece on Microsoft Services Agreement:

    “you grant to Microsoft a worldwide and royalty-free intellectual property license to use Your Content, for example, to make copies of, retain, transmit, reformat, display, and distribute via communication tools Your Content on the Services”

    ANY OF YOUR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY IS GIVEN TO MICROSOFT FREE OF ROYALTIES!