When trying to set up a new computer, you just want to get the whole thing over and done with painlessly, but Microsoft will not let you. You have to sit there quietly, trying to get the occasional word in while politely listening to the annoying voice that rattles on and on without even taking so much as a single breath.
I am talking about a digital voice assistant that annoyingly tries to help when you do not want it and did not ask for it. We need to talk about Cortana, Microsoft’s personal digital assistant baked into Windows 10, who always seems to show up at the wrong time.
Now Microsoft is finally holding an intervention and dealing with one of the assistant’s most frustrating features. The only problem is, it is not for everyone.
The refreshing sound of silence
Once upon a time, Microsoft thought it would be a good idea for PC users to use only Microsoft’s voice when performing clean installs of Windows 10. That was way back in 2017 when Cortana was put in place to offload seemingly mundane installation tasks like setting up your Wi-Fi and other personalization.
Maybe you have found it helpful during the setup process, maybe not. But based on “feedback,” Microsoft has decided to disable Cortana by default during clean installs of Pro, Enterprise and Education versions of Windows. Sorry, Home users, you will still be subject to the unsolicited assistance, but this change should at the very least help keep your company’s IT staff from the brink of insanity when setting up multiple PCs at once.
This is one of the changes coming with the next big Windows update, and currently available as Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 18309 (19H1) for Windows Insiders in the Fast Ring. There are also a number of other changes, including Microsoft’s mission to rid the planet of passwords.
Here is hoping Microsoft has a better year
Testing of the Spring release of Windows 10 has started, and these changes and updates should arrive for the next big Windows update, which should be released in April. But hopefully Microsoft has a better year than 2018, when their updates and patches were plagued with bugs and multiple reports of the dreaded Blue Screen of Death.
But if all goes to plan with the update, this Cortana modification should be welcomed as a helpful change.
How to find everything Microsoft knows about you
Facebook and Google both know a lot about you, but that is not all. You may have a lot more of a connection to Microsoft than you think.
Privacy issues are all over the news rights now, with concern growing about what companies know about you and how they are using your information. While Facebook is making headlines with its Cambridge Analytica scandal, internet users are also wondering what information other tech businesses are gathering. But, what about Microsoft?
You may have a lot more connections to Microsoft than you think. You may use Windows 10, write with Word, search with Bing, talk to the Cortana digital assistant, or use the Edge browser.
Microsoft could potentially have a pretty extensive dossier of your activity. Depending on your settings and which Microsoft services you use, it may track what apps you open on your computer, your location, Cortana voice requests, your searches within the Edge browser, and even the films you watch using the Windows movie player. Microsoft says it collects this data “to help make your experience with our products and services more personalized, useful, and fun.” Let us see what Microsoft knows.
Our starting place on this journey is Microsoft’s Privacy dashboard, which is where you can view your activity history and learn more about Microsoft’s privacy practices. You may need to log into your Microsoft account to access this page. The overview area will help orient you and also put a whole host of privacy-related links and controls at your fingertips. When you create a Microsoft account, you are opening the door to Microsoft.
Look for the link to “Activity history” and click on this to see what data Microsoft has collected. You can filter the results by data type, such as voice, search, browser, or locations.
If you do not sign into your Windows device using a Microsoft account, then you might not see much, if any, data listed in your activity history. If this is the case, then you will get a message reading, “We do not have any data associated with this Microsoft account at the moment.”
If you are OK with what you see, then take a deep breath and go about your day. If you are concerned about the data being collected, then you can choose to clear your data.
The main Privacy dashboard has quick links for viewing and clearing your browser history, search history, location activity, voice activity, Cortana data, and Microsoft Health data.
You may see some warnings along the way. For example, Microsoft says, “Clearing your data will affect the ability of Microsoft to provide Cortana’s recommendations and/or personalize your speech, inking, and typing experience on your device(s).”
It is a personal decision as to whether you want to delete this data or allow Microsoft to hang onto it. If you are a heavy Cortana user, then you may want to leave this one alone.
You may be perfectly comfortable with the information Microsoft collects, or you may guard your privacy to the extent that you want to wipe it all out. Neither answer is right or wrong, but regardless of what you choose, it is good to know exactly what data Microsoft keeps tabs on.
George Cox is the owner of Computer Diagnostics and Repair. He can be reached at 346-4217.
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