Security shield icon, laptop with settings cog on the screen, and eye illustration representing privacy
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Adjust Your Windows 10 Privacy Settings: A Short Summary

The default Windows 10 settings can compromise your privacy, leaving your private data in the hands of Microsoft and malicious third parties.

Here are nine changes you should make to your Windows 10 privacy settings:

  1. Use a VPN to encrypt your browsing activity
  2. Turn off Activity History
  3. Limit Diagnostic Feedback and delete data
  4. Turn off Targeted Advertising
  5. Remove camera access
  6. Remove microphone access
  7. Control Contact Access
  8. Turn off lock screen notifications
  9. Turn off location tracking

This first point is overarching because regardless of the privacy settings you adjust, you need a VPN to encrypt your traffic and hide your identity.

From years of experience with VPNs, we recommend Surfshark — it’s cheap, fast and boasts many security features, including AES encryption and an ad, tracker, and malware blocker.

Read this article to discover easy-to-follow Windows 10 privacy settings to turn off.

Icon showing surveillance camera with red alert triangle

Although Microsoft plans to phase out Windows 10 (Win10) by 2025, the operating system is one of the most used worldwide. It’s faster than previous Windows versions and packs security features to prevent viruses and malware. However, Windows 10’s default privacy settings leave much to be desired.

Chief among the privacy concerns is that Windows 10 gathers more information on users than necessary. Plus, it tracks users across multiple devices.

Our privacy experts have used Windows 10 since its launch and have discovered the best ways to protect your privacy. We’ll reveal all those tips in this article, but the first step in privacy protection — no matter your operating system — is using a VPN. A premium VPN assigns you an anonymous IP address and secures your internet connection with 256-bit AES encryption.

But first, let’s highlight the reasons for the privacy issues on Windows 10.

Why Windows 10 Is a Privacy Disaster

You should be concerned about your privacy when using Windows 10 because it collects too much user information. Here’s a snapshot of the main details Microsoft collects about you:

Infographic showing why Windows 10 is a privacy disaster
  • Activity history: This includes how and when you use apps and services on Windows 10, websites you browse on Microsoft Edge, device activity, and keystrokes.
  • Diagnostic data: This covers details about your device health, troubleshooting reports and crash reports.
  • Location data: Windows 10 uses your device to determine your precise location and movements.
  • Speech/voice clips: When activated, Windows 10 can record your voice clips which Microsoft workers and vendors will review.

Most of this data collection is used to create an advertising ID, enabling Microsoft to give you “tailored experiences.” In other words, you’ll see ads related to your interest. However, considering that Microsoft has been mired in data breaches, the privacy trade-off might not be worth it.

Here are some privacy controversies Microsoft has faced over the years from our news section:

How to Ensure Windows 10 Privacy

Below, we walk through proven ways to protect your privacy while using Windows 10. We’ve added straightforward step-by-step guides to help you implement the tips.

Infographic showing tips how to ensure Windows 10 privacy

1. Use a VPN to encrypt your browsing activity

Short for virtual private networks, a VPN is a must-have tool in your privacy toolkit, not just for a Windows desktop but for every operating system.

The best VPNs use military-grade AES encryption to encrypt your internet traffic, keeping hackers and eavesdroppers at bay. Even if malicious actors get access to your data, they’ll only see gibberish. A VPN gives you a new IP address, allowing you to use the internet anonymously.

We recommend using a VPN whenever browsing on Windows 10, especially if you’re connected to public WiFi. That’s because third parties can track you through an open WiFi connection, or one with weak, publicly available passwords.

While there are numerous VPNs on the market, choose Surfshark VPN. It’s one of the cheapest VPNs yet boasts excellent security and privacy features. This includes AES-256 encryption, a strict no-logs policy, secure protocols, and an ad, tracker and malware blocker.

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If you’d rather learn more about Surfshark first, you can also consult our full Surfshark review.

How to set up a VPN on Windows 10

Here’s a step-by-step guide to installing a VPN on Windows 10:

  1. Visit the VPN’s website and download the Windows app. You’ll need to create an account, but with Surfshark’s 30-day money-back guarantee, you can give it a run for free.

    Screenshot of Surfshark VPN website page, Download the Windows app button highlighted
  2. Open the VPN app, log in, and connect to a VPN server. Most VPNs have a large power button on their home screen; clicking on it will connect you to the best server.

    Screenshot of Surfshark VPN dashboard, server locations tab
  3. Open your browser and start using the internet.

    Screenshot of Google search engine homepage

If the VPN you choose doesn’t have an app for Windows, you can connect the VPN to Windows directly. We’ve outlined the steps to do that in our article “Setting Up a VPN Connection on Windows 10.”

2. Turn off Activity History

To prevent Windows 10 from keeping logs of your browsing history and use of apps, do the following:

  1. Click on the Windows Start button.
  2. Click to open your Windows settings. It’s the gear button just above the power button. You can also find “Settings” by typing it into the Windows search box.

    Screenshot of Windows 10, partial view of start menu with settings cog highlighted
  3. Click on the “Privacy” tab.

    Screenshot of Windows 10, Settings, Privacy option highlighted
  4. Click on “Activity History” and uncheck the boxes by “Store my activity history on this device” and “Send my activity history to Microsoft.” Click “Clear” under “Clear Activity History” to remove all traces of your previous activity.

    Screenshot of Windows 10, Activity history settings

3. Limit Diagnostic Feedback and delete data

Microsoft claims it needs to access diagnostic data to keep Windows 10 secure and updated and improve its services. For that reason, you’ll have to send a minimum amount of data to the company. Sadly, Microsoft doesn’t let you turn off diagnostic feedback completely. However, you can stop your device from sending unnecessary information.

  1. Go to “Start,” “Settings,” and “Privacy.”
  2. Click on “Diagnostics & feedback.”

    Screenshot of Windows 10, Diagnostics and feedback privacy settings
  3. Select “Required diagnostic data.”

    Screenshot of Windows 10, diagnostic data, Required diagnostic data option highlighted
  4. If you choose to send optional diagnostic data instead, be sure to toggle the button under “Improve inking and typing” off.
  5. If you want to remove all diagnostic data that Microsoft has collected from your device, scroll to the bottom of the page, and click ” Delete” under “Delete diagnostic data.”

    Screenshot of Windows 10, Delete diagnostic data option highlighted

4. Turn off Targeted Advertising

One of Microsoft’s income streams is targeted advertising. As we already mentioned, when you use Windows 10, Microsoft creates an advertising ID to track your behavior and interests. This profile is eventually sold to advertisers, and you never know where it might end up.

You can use the best ad blockers, but if you want to stop Microsoft’s targeted ads natively, follow the steps below:

  1. Go to “Start,” “Settings,” “Privacy,” and then “General.”

    Screenshot of Windows 10, Windows permissions general settings
  2. Move the slider to “off.”

    Screenshot of Windows 10, General privacy options

It’s worth mentioning that a VPN with an ad blocker can stop ads and trackers from ruining your browsing experience. Again, Surfshark is an excellent choice, since it has an ad blocker.

5. Remove camera access

Ever heard of the term “camfecting?” It’s another name for camera hacking, which has become common in today’s ever-evolving cybercrime landscape.

Rogue characters can access your Windows 10 webcam, which they often use to monitor users often for identity theft or even sextortion.

One of the ways hackers access computer webcams is to install an app remotely on your device and monitor your device remotely. Thankfully, on Windows 10, you can decide which apps access your camera. We recommend periodically checking the apps that have access and removing the ones that don’t need it.

Here are the steps to follow to turn off camera access:

  1. Go to “Start,” “Settings,” and then “Privacy.”
  2. On the right-hand side of your screen, click “Camera” under “App permissions.”

    Screenshot of Windows 10, Camera privacy settings
  3. If you want to stop all the apps, including Microsoft apps and desktop apps, from accessing the camera, click “Change” under “Allow Access to the camera on this device.” Toggle the button to “off.”

    Screenshot of Windows 10, change camera access settings
  4. You can permit specific app access to the camera but block others. To do that, scroll down, find the specific apps you want to block, and toggle the on or off button next to them.

    Screenshot of Windows 10, Camera access app permissions
  5. At the bottom of the page, Windows 10 has another setting to allow or disallow desktop apps from accessing your camera. Microsoft doesn’t clarify which apps it will block, but it’s worth turning off if you want absolute privacy.

    Screenshot of Windows 10, Allow desktop apps to access your camera

This is one of the key steps to preventing camera hacking. Other webcam protection tips include covering your camera, updating your operating system, and using antivirus software to thwart phishing attacks.

In our years of testing antivirus software, Norton antivirus has been the standout option, thanks to its top-notch malware detection ability and easy-to-use apps. You can check out our full Norton 360 review or click the link below to visit their website.

6. Remove microphone access

Microphone hacking is not as common as camera hacking, but as long as the possibility is there, you should take steps to prevent it. Anyone who gets access to your microphone can monitor and listen in on your conversations.

The steps to change your microphone access is similar to changing your camera settings.

  1. Open “Start,” “Settings,” and then “Privacy.”
  2. Under “App permissions,” click “Microphone.”

    Screenshot of Windows 10, microphone privacy settings
  3. Click “Change” under “Allow access to the microphone on this device” and toggle the button off. This will prevent all apps from accessing your microphone.

    Screenshot of Windows 10, allow microphone access for this device
  4. To prevent individual apps from accessing the microphone, scroll down and select the apps you want to access the microphone or otherwise.

    Screenshot of Windows 10, Microphone access app permissions

Think about whether the app might need the microphone to work before revoking access. For instance, Skype might need the microphone, while Microsoft Photos likely doesn’t need it.

7. Control Contact Access

The contacts in your Microsoft account synced across different devices could be at the mercy of third parties in Windows 10. Here’s how to ensure no one gets access to your Microsoft contacts and uses them for untoward reasons:

  1. Go to “Start,” “Settings,” and then “Privacy.”
  2. Click “Contacts” under “App permissions.”

    Screenshot of Windows 10, Contacts privacy settings
  3. To stop the device and all apps from accessing your contact, toggle the slider under “Allow apps to access your contacts” to off.

    Screenshot of Windows 10, Contacts privacy settings
  4. Alternatively, move further down the page and move the slider beside every app on or off to control access.

    Screenshot of Windows 10, Microphone access app permissions

8. Turn off lock screen notifications

Restricting screen notifications is another way to protect your privacy and avoid interruptions while using your device.

As you may have already guessed, you can do that in the same way as the others above.

  1. Go to “Start,” “Settings,” and “Privacy.”
  2. Click on “Notifications” under “Apps and permissions.”

    Screenshot of Windows 10, Notifications settings
  3. Toggle the button under “Allow apps to access your notifications” off.

    Screenshot of Windows 10, Notifications privacy settings

9. Turn off location tracking

Location settings are some of the most intrusive invasions of your privacy. While other privacy intrusions track your activity online, location data tracks you even offline. Location services give Windows 10 access to information about what you do when you aren’t using your computer.

Visit a gynecologist in a new, regular pattern, and Microsoft can analyze the information to predict you are pregnant. Microsoft may know about your pregnancy before you tell even those closest to you.

Plus, your location is one of the most important details that hackers look out for. It allows them to trace you and undertake their malicious activities.

To adjust your location settings, do the following:

  1. Go to “Start,” “Settings,” and “Privacy.”
  2. Under app permissions, click “Location.” This will take you to the location page.

    Screenshot of Windows 10, Location settings
  3. Click “Change” under “Allow access to location on this device” and move the slider to “off.” This will prevent all apps and services from accessing your location.

    Screenshot of Windows 10, Location privacy settings, turn off location access for this device highlighted
  4. If you don’t want to block your locations system-wide, you can determine which Windows apps will access your location or otherwise. To do that, scroll down the location page and move the slider beside the apps on or off.

    Screenshot of Windows 10, Location access app permissions
  5. Other available location options include setting a default location for your PC, geofencing, and clearing your location history.

    Screenshot of Windows 10, Location privacy settings

App Permissions: What Windows 10 Privacy Settings Should I Turn Off?

By now, you’d have noticed that most of the changes follow the same format. As a result, we won’t bore you with repetitive steps.

Rather, here are the 22 Windows 10 privacy settings you can change or toggle under app permissions:

  • Location
  • Camera
  • Microphone
  • Voice activation
  • Notifications
  • Account info
  • Contacts
  • Calendar
  • Phone calls
  • Call history
  • Email
  • Tasks
  • Messaging
  • Radios
  • Other devices
  • Background apps
  • App diagnostics
  • Automatic file downloads
  • Documents
  • Pictures
  • Videos
  • File system

Changing any of these settings follows the same process as the examples we showed above.

Using the Microsoft privacy dashboard

Aside from making changes to the privacy settings of your Windows 10 device, you can also view and erase the data Microsoft has on you. You can do this through the privacy dashboard.

Follow these steps to use your privacy dashboard:

  1. Log into your Microsoft account and click on “Privacy.”

    Screenshot of Microsoft account, Privacy tab open
  2. Scroll to “Manage your activity data.” Click the drop-down button beside the information you want to view. You can either download the data or erase it.

    Screenshot of Microsoft account, Privacy settings, Manage your activity data

Final Thoughts on Windows 10 Privacy Settings

Privacy settings icon

Changing your privacy settings in Windows 10 is a simple process. Click the start button, head to “Settings,” and select “Privacy.”

This will take you to the Windows 10 Privacy tab, where you can tweak various privacy settings, including your location, camera, microphone, contacts, and calls.

Note that changing your privacy settings might affect the function of some apps and features. Understand the potential issues before turning off each privacy setting. If you’re not sure about the extent of the impact, contact the app’s customer service.

You can also upgrade to Windows 11, which seems to have more security and privacy features. We put together a complete Windows 11 guide to get you started.

If you want to change your privacy settings on other devices, here are some helpful articles:

Whatever you do, be sure that you use a VPN to safeguard your device and internet traffic. As a quick reminder, Surfshark does the job better than most VPNs.

Windows 10 Privacy Settings: Frequently Asked Questions

If you still have questions about what Windows 10 privacy settings to change, we’re here to help. We compiled the most common questions about Windows 10 privacy. Click on a question to reveal the answer.

What privacy settings for Windows 10 should I turn off?

To protect your privacy on Windows 10, turn off app access to your location, contacts, microphone, contacts, camera, and targeted advertising.

This will reduce the chances of any third party accessing your data. Regardless of the privacy settings you change, you need a secure VPN service to encrypt your traffic and hide your identity.

How do I make Windows 10 secure and private?

To make Windows 10 secure and private, limit which apps have access to your location, camera, contacts, among others.

In addition, use a VPN to encrypt and anonymize your traffic. This is particularly vital if you’re using public Wi-Fi. Read our article on what Windows 10 privacy settings to change.

Does Windows 10 track everything you do?

Windows 10 tracks virtually everything you do on the operating system, including location, browsing history, apps you use, your typing patterns, and speech.

You can change most of these privacy settings by going to Windows Start, Settings, and Privacy. We’ve explained the steps to changing these setting in our article on Windows privacy settings.

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