Want to protect your privacy following revelations about what data Windows 10 is collecting about you? Here are five tools that may help.
So Microsoft has finally come clean about exactly what data Windows 10 collects about you and your system. The documentation was released to appease concern about how the company uses your data, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do everything you can to lock down your privacy.
If you’ve never got around to configuring the operating system’s privacy settings, it might be time to do something about that.
You can of course manually configure the OS yourself, but why bother when there’s such a huge range of third-party tools available that can make the job easier? Furthermore, some of these tools allow you to drill down to 50 or more Windows settings for even greater control over your privacy.
Here are five of the better (and free) examples available.
O&O ShutUp10 (pictured above) is a tiny portable tool from well-known Berlin-based O&O Software for controlling Windows 10’s many privacy-related settings.
Among its near 50 tweaks are options to disable telemetry, Wi-Fi sense, key app permissions, peer-to-peer updates, automatic Windows updates and more.
ShutUp10 can apply its “recommended” tweaks in a couple of clicks, disabling the worst offenders while leaving Windows updates, SmartScreen and other technologies you might actually need. But if you know what you’re doing, you can turn off everything, or configure items individually.
This kind of batch tweakery is always risky, but ShutUp10 does offer to create a system restore point before it does anything, handy if you need to undo your changes later.
There’s also a separate option to restore Windows 10’s default privacy settings, which might be useful if they’re generally messed up and you’d like to start again.
O&O ShutUp10 is a 109KB freeware application for Windows 10.
From another well-known German developer, Ashampoo AntiSpy for Windows 10 is yet another free tool for tweaking Windows 10’s many privacy and security settings.
There’s support for tweaking 40-plus options covering browsing, updates, location features, webcam/ microphone access, Cortana, Contacts and Calendar, and assorted telemetry settings.
Experts can toggle each setting individually, and there are also options to disable everything, or all but a few core technologies.
Safety features include a prompt to create a System Restore point before you start, and an option to restore the default Windows settings if everything goes wrong.
The interface is simple and straightforward, and as it’s just a single 279KB executable, AntiSpy is easy to carry around.
Ashampoo AntiSpy for Windows 10 isn’t exactly revolutionary, but it’s a good example of the type, which offers plenty of control over your settings, and can help you recover if you accidentally disable something important. Give it a try, if you’re interested – or just wait a week or two, there will probably be something similar along very soon.
Spybot is a long-established brand in security software and among the tools on offer from developer Safer Networking is Spybot Anti-Beacon – another portable free tool that makes it easy to disable a host of Windows 10 tracking technologies.
Just launching the program displays the current status of 10 “problem” areas: Telemetry Hosts/ Services/ Group Policy, Consumer Experience Improvement Program Group Policy/ Scheduled Tasks, Application Impact Telemetry, Steps Recorder, WiFi Sense, “Apps use advertising ID” and P2P Windows Updates.
Disabling everything is as simple as hitting the “Immunize” button, and if that gets you into trouble then an “Undo” option restores your original settings.
Anti-Beacon makes it easy to turn off every telemetry setting – but there’s very little fine control
Unfortunately, unlike O&O’s ShutUp10, there’s no detail on what you’re disabling, and no way to toggle individual settings: it’s strictly all or nothing.
The only detailed control you get is under the “Optional” tab, where you’re able to tweak any or all of four features: Web Search Group Policy, Cortana Group Policy, OneDrive Service and Remote Registry Service.
Spybot Anti-Beacon is an extremely simple way to turn off Windows 10’s core telemetry settings, and if you’re an expert and know exactly what you’re doing, that just might be good enough.
But if you’d like to have more control, and occasionally need reminding of what these settings actually do, O&O ShutUp10 remains a better choice.
If you’ve tried more than your share of Windows 10 telemetry blockers recently, then we know just how you feel, but wait – W10Privacy is more interesting than most. No, really.
There’s a lengthy list of tweaks you can apply, for instance – approaching 100 – all neatly organised across several tabs: Privacy, Telemetry, Network, Services and more.
While the competition often leaves you uncertain what a particular option will do, W10Privacy has some very clear descriptions: “Do not let apps use my camera”, “Do not let apps access my name, picture and other account into”, and so on.
If that’s not enough, hovering the mouse over that action displays a tooltip with more information.
W10Privacy gives you quite fine control over some areas. There’s not just a vague “block telemetry” option: instead you can choose to “block IP addresses of known Microsoft telemetry servers” through either a firewall rule or your HOSTS file, in both full-strength and lightweight versions.
Each action is colour-coded, too, as either green (safe to set), amber (check carefully) or red (don’t do this unless you’re really sure), reducing the chance that you’ll cause some major problems.
There are some useful bonus features, too, including the ability to uninstall most of the standard Windows apps.
The program does have various issues. There’s no way to disable or enable a group of settings at once; there’s no “Cancel” option if you hit “Set changed settings” by mistake; the interface and general implementation need a lot of work.
Still, there’s nothing here that can’t be fixed, and W10Privacy’s explanations of what each tweak does are well worth having.
W10Privacy is small, portable and entirely free, so if you’re interested, grab a copy and give it a try.
Windows Privacy Tweaker
Windows Privacy Tweaker is another easy-to-use portable application for viewing and controlling more than 50 Windows telemetry and privacy settings.
Unlike many similar programs, this isn’t just for Windows 10. You’ll be able to see and toggle some settings on anything from Windows Vista up.
The program starts with an offer to create a System Restore Point when it loads. Accept this and you should easily be able to undo your changes later
Windows Privacy Tweaker organises its settings into three categories. “Services” lists Windows services, including Remote Registry and Remote Desktop; “Scheduler” lists Windows scheduled tasks relating to Microsoft’s Customer Experience Improvement Program, amongst others; and Registry has more general settings, such as controlling app access to your microphone.
Settings which are currently enabled are displayed in red, to highlight them as potentially dangerous. Disabled settings are displayed in green.
Some, though not all items have descriptions, helping you understand what disabling them might mean. You don’t have to know what the “Consolidator” task does, for instance– the program displays this: “if the user has consented to participate in the Windows Customer Experience Improvement Program, this job collects and sends usage data to Microsoft.”
Settings can be changed individually. Checking the box to the left of any item will toggle it immediately.
“Check all” and “Uncheck all” buttons will enable or disable everything at once.
Disabling everything is always going to be riskier, but if you’ve created a restore point then you should be able to recover from any problems. And it might be convenient to enable everything in some situations, perhaps if a PC is behaving oddly and you want to restore the default privacy settings.
Put it all together and while other privacy tools offer more settings, Windows Privacy Tweaker’s portability, descriptions of some settings and system restore point integration are important pluses, and developer Phrozen Software is more trustworthy than most. Worth a look.
Windows Privacy Tweaker is available for Windows Vista and later.