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Thursday, December 02, 2021

Windows 11 Privacy Issues – What you need to know

Windows 11 privacy concerns
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Windows 11 has been out for a few weeks now and many Windows 10 users are finally upgrading. Windows is often seen as the most popular desktop operating system in the world, but does Windows 11 have any privacy concerns? Let’s take a look.

For starters, the word ‘Privacy’ is noticeably missing from Microsoft’s marketing material for Windows 11. This is in stark contrast to Apple’s marketing where they have chosen to make privacy a key part of their message. The absence of privacy assurance in Windows 11 gives Apple a major differentiation in their product that could become crucial in time to come.

In recent years, users have become increasingly aware of how important privacy is and are starting to question what data is being collected from their devices without their knowledge. Yet it is often difficult to pin down what data is being uplifted into Microsoft’s cloud ecosystem and exactly what they are doing with this information about you.

We do know that Windows 11 is collecting a lot more data than its predecessor and Microsoft have been heavily criticized for the massive data collection tactics of Windows 10. In fact, the trend has been ramped up with Windows 11 as Microsoft push to encourage users to make use of an online account, rather than an offline account. This ensures that your identity data is readily linked with data that gets sucked into the cloud.

It seems that Microsoft is keen to collect as much information as possible and they are not afraid to be bold and open about it. Even if you disable some of the built-in tracking technology by changing your settings, there are still plenty more ways that Windows can track you without your permission or knowledge.

Windows 11 essentially requires a Windows account that the operating system is linked to. Windows even goes as far as making you log into your Windows account on startup, rather than allowing for an offline mode where no data has to be sent back home automatically.

Although you can still install Windows 11 with an offline account, by using workarounds, the process is deliberately difficult and users will experience multiple nudges to move to an online account during the process.

Further, Windows 11 uses Bing search by default which sends off thousands of queries every day without asking users’ permission first. This means that Microsoft is collecting information about Windows users via their browsing habits and this could include sensitive personal details such as medical conditions etc… All of these details could then be passed directly to advertisers who can use them in any way they see fit.

Windows is clearly becoming a bit too big brotherish with Windows 11 and Microsoft needs to do more than just talk about 'privacy' every now and then.

 It would seem that there simply aren’t enough options available for users who want to turn off tracking technology during installation or use their own custom settings instead of Windows recommended defaults during setup.

Windows may have been around since 1985 but it seems like they still don’t fully comprehend what modern day privacy means – especially when you consider how much data Windows collects from its new operating system without even asking first!

Windows Privacy Settings - is it enough?

Microsoft has provided a settings page where you can control some of the privacy centric settings. However, many users are not going to know about this and may not know how to turn these settings on or off. Also, the settings provided do not provide enough granular control to fully protect your privacy. For instance, Windows needs to be configured separately for each user and you cannot just set a global default.

Windows 11 privacy settings
Windows 11 Privacy Settings - Diagnostics & feedback

In order for Windows to be fully functional you do need to use a Microsoft account and this does allow Microsoft access to your identity data as well as other information such as location details etc… This means that it can be quite difficult for Windows users who want better privacy options especially if they have set up their device without going through the setup process properly the first time around.

If you are concerned about how much data Windows collects from its new operating system then turning off tracking features during installation or using different settings would certainly help limit what Microsoft knows about you – but it isn’t enough because Windows requires a connected online account.

Windows 11 Privacy Settings
Windows 11 Privacy Settings - Privacy & security

Windows Cortana - a privacy nightmare

Windows 11 privacy concerns are also exacerbated by Windows’ voice assistant Cortana. Cortana is Microsoft’s version of Siri or Google Assistant, and can be activated with the click of a button on your PC. 

Windows users have two options to activate Cortana: they can either type in their query using Windows Search, or talk out loud asking for information from directly within their web browser (called ‘Cortana In-Browser’). While this may not sound like such a big deal at first glance, talking to your device within earshot of other people isn’t exactly polite. 

It also means that any search queries you do through Windows will go straight back to Microsoft as well as whatever company provides the website you’re visiting.

In other words, Windows users are now broadcasting their every move online as well as exposing themselves to a risk of hacking and identity theft, all because Windows doesn’t have the good sense to keep Cortana from being activated by people around you.

In fact, Windows has been criticized for its ‘always listening’ technology which can be turned on or off through your Windows search bar (activated with the Windows button). If this is enabled then Windows will always listen out for certain key phrases such as “Hey Cortana” even if you don’t use it at that moment – making it easy for hackers and thieves alike to access potentially sensitive information about you.

Even average computer users should know better than to enable an ‘always listening’ feature like this without fully understanding the implications first – Windows needs to do a better job of explaining the risks involved with this kind of technology.

How can I protect my privacy in Windows 11?

Windows PrivacyFortunately, some third-party tools have become available to fill the void of privacy protection in Windows 10 and Windows 11. One such tool is O&O ShutUp10++

O&O ShutUp10++ provides us with the detailed functionality that should come built into Windows 11. With O&O ShutUp10++, we are able to selectively enable or disable each individual component that restricts Microsoft’s collection of data. O&O ShutUp10++ is very easy to use and I would highly recommend this product be installed on Windows 11.

For Windows users who want to take control of their privacy and data, O&O ShutUp is a lot better than Windows’ built-in options which aren’t particularly granular or detailed enough for our liking especially when it comes to controlling Cortana’s functionality. 

I think that the only scenario where Windows would be able to protect your privacy completely would be if you were using Windows on a PC with no microphone connected whatsoever – but I guess this goes without saying doesn’t it? 

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