Tip: Review Your Microsoft Account’s Privacy Settings

Posted on January 12, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Microsoft Consumer Services with 6 Comments

Tip: Review Your Microsoft Account's Privacy Settings

Earlier this month, I wrote about the proper care and feeding of your Microsoft account. Since then, the Microsoft account website has been overhauled with a new dashboard that lets you manage your privacy settings and even delete the data Microsoft has saved. You should examine this new interface immediately.

Microsoft announced this change a few days ago, but news about the new privacy dashboard probably didn’t get the attention it deserved because Microsoft also described a coming change to the way it handles privacy settings in Windows 10.

But you don’t need to wait for the next version of Windows 10 to examine and configure your Microsoft account privacy settings. That is available right now, on the web, to anyone with a Microsoft account. (Basically, Microsoft has separated the Security & Privacy area on the Microsoft account website into separate Security and Privacy interfaces.)

The new Privacy dashboard can be found on the Microsoft account website at account.microsoft.com/privacy. As you can see, it looks nothing like the rest of this site, and is instead visual, with thorough explanations of what data Microsoft collects, and why. It’s actually pretty impressive.

Here’s what’s available.

Browsing history. Microsoft Edge saves your browsing history on a per-device basis, but if Cortana is configured to save your browsing history (which I believe it is, by default) then your collective browsing history will be saved to the cloud. You can view that browsing history and use a Clear browsing history option to remove it, too.

Search history. Bing uses your search history to improve search results, so that is saved to the cloud too. You can view this search history if you’d like and, as with your browsing history, you can delete it with a Clear search history option.

Location activity. Microsoft tracks your location activity across devices so that it can show you information that is relevant to you based on that location. And yes, you can view your location history and delete it as required. Don’t want to be tracked? You can turn off Find My Device in Windows 10 (in Settings, Privacy, Location).

Cortana’s Notebook. Microsoft’s personal digital assistant uses a notebook to store information about you so that it can better serve your needs. You can view the contents of this notebook in the cloud and delete everything in it if you no longer wish to use Cortana. (Or simply want to start over, I guess.)

Health activity. Microsoft stores your health-related data in its HealthVault and Microsoft Health services, so you can access that information from those places, respectively. Which means you need to visit those sites individually: Microsoft HealthVault and Microsoft Health.

Other privacy settings. At the bottom of the main Privacy dashboard site, you will find links to the privacy settings for Windows, Xbox, Skype, and Office, plus apps and services, marketing preferences, and advertising preferences. Some are just informational—the Windows and Office items, for example, just tell you what information Microsoft collects and where you can configure it—but others are live dashboards where you can configure the related settings. Each is absolutely worth visiting.

Looks like I need to update First Steps: The Proper Care and Feeding of Your Microsoft Account to address this major change.


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Comments (6)

6 responses to “Tip: Review Your Microsoft Account’s Privacy Settings”

  1. 6525

    I do not understand the purpose of webbased privacy settings. The very purpose of privacy is locality restricted to the computer itself and its local backup media. Therefore, having an MS account at all or using online privacy settings for local computers do not make any sense if one does want privacy.

    Only if one has already abandoned true privacy as a concept, can one then wish to create an MS account or use a webinterface for pseudo-privacy settings of the local computer. Not to mention that MS servers are in the wrong countries.

    • 8834

      In reply to RobertJasiek:

      The user opted into everything here by logging in to Windows using their Microsoft Account.  If you used a local or domain account, you don't get any of this and things continue to work like older versions of Windows.

      Remember, the whole point of using a Microsoft Account is to be able to share your data and settings between your multiple devices, not to arbitrarily give your information away to random people.

      Me, for example, I have a home desktop, a Surface tablet, a laptop that does media center duties, and a personal VM at work.  Each machine is configured with different levels of data synchronization (e.g. no OneDrive sync to my work VM; my Surface doesn't get photos or theme changes), but they all change passwords at the same time and it also ensures my Office 365 subscription works on all devices.

      For someone like me who travels all the time, there's a lot of value here, much more so than any perceived "privacy" benefits related to keeping everything on my home machine.  And I'm putting "privacy" in quotes because  I've already chosen to trust Microsoft with my data by using their operating systems and applications.  100% of my data is stored on physical disks in a way that Microsoft chose!  Is my privacy seriously compromised by extending that trust to include my phone number (for two-factor authentication) and the fact that I like the Toronto Blue Jays, prefer seeing temperature in Celsius, and am not interested in entertainment news?  Probably not.  That's not very interesting.

      I mean, for fuck's sakes, I give away 1,000x more information about myself by posting on the Internet than I do by using a Microsoft account!  So do you!  You've posted on Thurrott's pages 26 times using the name "Robert Jasiek".  Bet I could do a couple of Google searches and track you down.....  perhaps you're the same guy that's posted 4,300+ times on lifein19x19.com?  A veritable treasure trove of information about you, I'm sure.  If you really cared about your privacy, you'd do a better job of protecting yourself than this.  



      • 6525

        In reply to warren:

        Thanks for explaining your view. If you search for my name, chances are great that it is about me and that any search engine shows only a tiny fraction of what I have written online. That somebody writes much in public does not, however, imply that he would not use privacy. Separation of data! Public data for the public, private data for oneself, tax data for the state etc. It is each user's right to choose which data to keep private.

        My choice is to permit Windows: Windows Updates and connection to my ISP. Anything else is private until I, and only I, decide to share it online.

  2. 1712

    I like this. A single "clear all" button would be nice ? Thanks for the info

  3. oudin


  4. 217

    I love the Windows haters when they cry about privacy concerns with Windows 10, as they post comments from their Android phone, the ultimate botnet itself.