Microsoft products and services are used in many aspects of life, from entertainment (games consoles) to academic and professional uses (Microsoft Office suite). Avoiding the use of Microsoft products can be difficult. However, this doesn’t mean it is impossible to protect as much as your data as possible, Microsoft even encourages you to take stock of the data they have on you. Microsoft have built a tool called the ‘Privacy Dashboard’, this is a platform that allows almost complete control over the data Microsoft has or will ever collect on you. The privacy dashboard is a very powerful tool for those interested in their privacy when using Microsoft products.
To begin, find the privacy dashboard at https://account.microsoft.com/privacy/ and login to your Microsoft account. You are now logged into the privacy dashboard (Fig 1), have a quick perusal, taking take a look at some of the things you can do. If you wish to learn more about each part, you can continue reading and move through the dashboard step by step.
While many sections of the page are self-explanatory, there are some that require some further explanation, particularly the Cortana Data and Product and Service Performance Data. However, the first step select and work through each link on the first ‘Overview’ tab and begin deleting your data. Click on the ‘View and Clear Browsing History’ button to begin (Fig 2).
Having clicked on the ‘View and Clear Browsing History button, the browsing data sub-section illustrated in Fig 3 is displayed. This section displays information on everything you have ever searched for on any Microsoft related browser (e.g. Edge or Internet Explorer). It also includes information on any device you have used for logging onto Microsoft products and services (Even Windows OS).
Click on both Search and Browse, by default the dashboard will point at Browse but the Search category also shows data.
The search history section can be reached by clicking on the ‘Clear and View Search History’ button on the overview page.
Read through the history if you are curious about the data Microsoft has on your browsing and search histories. Once satisfied, you can select the option, ‘Clear activity’ located to the right of the history list, this will open a warning dialog box, informing you that if you delete this data Bing and other Microsoft services will have trouble improving your search results (Fig 4). For the purpose of this guide, we want to click ‘Clear’.
Once complete, all browsing and search data (assuming the ‘Clear Activity’ link on both sections was selected) will be erased from Microsoft’s services and data storage.
The steps detailed above can be carried out on each of the sub categories that are available on the overview page to erase all data. Repeat these steps for each category if you wish to follow the guide to its fullest.
The next step is a minor one but differs slightly to the above as you cannot see the data in this section, but are able to clear and delete it from Microsoft. This is the ‘Product and Service Performance Data’ located on the Overview page, that can be cleared with a single click. Once clicked the familiar dialog box is displayed previously. Click Clear and all diagnostic and technical data relating to devices you have used for accessing Microsoft on and any Microsoft services you have used will be cleared from Microsoft’s storage.
Cortana is the artificial intelligence (AI) developed by Microsoft which has now become a staple on the most recent versions of Microsoft Windows, it does provide useful services such as live action calendar reminders and ability to ask questions, although it is important to change the settings to prevent unnecessary data being collected.
The final step, and arguably the most important, is to edit Cortana’s settings (Fig 5). This will take you to the ‘Cortana’s Notebook’ part of the dashboard, providing further information on editing Cortana, and most importantly, deleting the data Cortana has collected on you (Fig 6).
Downloading your data
If you have completed all of the above steps and still have concerns or remain curious about the information Microsoft has collected about you, there is a facility available on for downloading your complete data. The ‘Download your data’ tab can be accessed from the overview bar, click the link labelled ‘Download your data’ to begin. This will open the data download page, which allows you to setup archives of data (Fig 7), creating a file of your data in various formats. This facility allows users of Microsoft to export calendar and/or contact information. Click the button labelled ‘Create Archive’ to begin, this allows you to select any part of the data available to you, for the purpose of this guide, we want to select ALL of the data (Fig 8). Once complete, the data archive section will show a dated archive available (Fig 9), it will initially be labelled as pending but after a short time (depending on the size of the data archive) it will be available to download. These archives come with an expiration date and will normally be deleted automatically after a short time (in this case, one week).
This concludes the steps required to protect yours data from Microsoft’s data collection techniques. Complete these steps regularly (once a month) and your digital privacy will improve markedly.