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Windows 11 Privacy Settings: Need to Know Tips for 2024

Windows 11 collects a wide range of data about your activity while using the operating system – and so do many apps and websites. 

Fortunately, Windows lets you restrict many built-in tracking permissions and data collection. But you need to turn them off manually within your settings. 

So, in this quick guide, I’ll show you seven settings you can change. It only takes a few minutes, and will exponentially boost your privacy. 

But first…

Why privacy matters on Windows 11

The data Windows 11 collects can include your location, the websites you visit, the apps you use, and more. Have you ever wondered why ads for products you've just thought about start appearing as you browse the web? That's because data collection is continuously happening in the background.

While some data collection is necessary for certain features to work, you have substantial control over how much information Microsoft gathers. This guide will show you how to navigate and tailor Windows 11 privacy settings to your comfort level.

Accessing your privacy settings

Easily navigate to your settings with these steps:

  1. Start menu: Click the Windows icon.
  2. Settings: Select the gear icon.
  3. Privacy dashboard: Locate and click on 'Privacy & Security' in the left-side navigation panel.

Now, let’s look at what you can change.

1. Adjust your general privacy settings

Within the Privacy & Security section, you'll find various categories. 

The perfect starting point is the "General” tab of your Privacy & Security settings. Here, you'll find settings that influence your overall Windows 11 experience:

  • Advertising ID: Each Windows 11 user has a unique advertising ID. This allows apps and ad networks to track your activity and build a profile used for targeted advertising. Disable this to stop apps and ad networks from tracking your activity for targeted advertising.
  • Allow apps to show personalized ads: This setting determines whether apps can use your advertising ID. Turning it off will reduce targeted advertising; although you will likely still see ads, they’ll be less tailored to your interests.
  • Typing personalization and inking personalization: These features analyze your typing and handwriting patterns to improve suggestions and autocorrect. However, this means sending that data to Microsoft. Turning these off will make suggestions less relevant but enhance your privacy.

2. Control your activity history

Activity history is a log of your device usage. Think of it like your PC's memory of what you do. While it can sometimes be useful, it also represents a fairly detailed record of your digital activity.

By default, Windows 11 tracks various activities, such as the apps you launch and the websites you visit. This data is used for features like its Timeline and to personalize recommendations.

  • Manage tracking: Turning off activity history tracking to ensure your activities remain private. Consider a VPN to further anonymize your online activities.

3. Manage your location services

Location data is among the most sensitive types of information your device collects. Apps and websites knowing your precise location can be creepy. Beyond privacy, it can drain your battery as your device continually updates this information.

  • Global setting: Completely turning off location services stops tracking for all apps.
  • App-specific permissions: Only allow access to apps that genuinely need location data to function, like map services.

4. Secure your camera and microphone

Your webcam and microphone are obvious privacy concerns. It's essential to be certain of which apps you grant permission to use these features. Legitimate uses include video conferencing software, camera apps, etc. However, some malware is designed to access these devices secretly.

  • System-level control: Disable these features entirely or manage permissions on an app-by-app basis to ensure privacy. Explore our top antivirus tools that prevent unauthorized camera and microphone access.

5. Optimize diagnostics and feedback settings

Diagnostics and feedback settings allow you to customize the amount of data shared with Microsoft for system improvement purposes. 

Distinguishing between "Required" and "Optional" data is important, as it defines the difference between essential diagnostic information and additional feedback and contains the most extensive data collection choices in Windows 11. Microsoft needs some "Required" data for your OS to function correctly, while "Optional" data isn‘t necessary to function.

  • Essential data only: Stick with "Required" diagnostic data and turn off "Send optional diagnostic data" to enhance your privacy.

6. Set app permissions strategically

Think of this as your command center for what apps can and cannot access. Here's a breakdown of some key areas:

  • Notifications: You can turn off notifications for most apps. This allows you to maintain focus without missing anything significant.
  • Calendar, Contacts, Call History: Only grant access to apps that genuinely need these to function. For example, your communications app needs Contacts, but most games do not!
  • Other permissions: Explore other options, such as background apps (which you can limit to save battery and reduce data usage), tasks, documents, and more.

7. Refine your search settings

Windows 11 tries to speed up search by indexing your files. This offers convenience but raises privacy concerns for some.

  • Indexing: Windows builds a database of your files for quick searching. We recommend limiting the folders that are indexed (e.g., exclude your "Documents").
  • Search history: Windows can save your searches for faster results later. Disable search history saving for peace of mind.
  • Cloud search: Windows can include web results in local searches. For maximum privacy, keep it limited to local files only.

When installing new apps, pay attention to the permissions they request during setup. Denying unnecessary access from the start will save you the hassle of tweaking these settings later. App updates can also sometimes reset permissions. 

Revisit these settings periodically to ensure an app has been granted only what you intended.

Conclusion: balancing privacy with functionality

Windows 11 provides substantial control over your privacy, but its default settings typically favor convenience. Explore these settings and disable features you don't need. Every minor adjustment can greatly enhance both your privacy and security.

Take action

Ready to enhance your Windows 11 privacy? Check out our top picks for VPNs that boost your security without compromising performance.

Written by: Conor Walsh

Conor is a tech writer with professional paranoia. He's passionate about privacy, and when not writing about it, can be found trying to get far away from his phone and any other technology, enjoying some live music, outdoorsy stuff, or a good (physical) book.


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