Price (RRP): $Free
Manufacturer: O&O Software GMBH
The free O&O ShutUp10 for Windows 10 may be the privacy find of the year.
Regular readers know that I have a healthy paranoia about personal privacy. In part that is due to my sexagenarian sensitivities about sharing and I have seen way too many privacy breaches – including my own! O&O ShutUp10 was a chance discovery in my quest for privacy.
To recap a lot of my personal data was stolen from the Starwood breach and hackers were able to get into my disused web-mail and other accounts. It took a damned long time to change all my passwords and clear history to feel safe again.
I use both Windows and Android devices and laboriously shut down all app permissions and lock the operating systems down very tightly. That is not enough – the rest of this article relates to Windows 10. We will cover Android another day.
Microsoft wants to be
In its default mode Microsoft Windows 10 and its core apps collect personal data. While I somewhat trust Microsoft to do no evil (Sorry, that is Google’s old mantra), I know that that data is collected under EULA (end user licence agreements) that few ever read. Advertisers throw rivers of gold at Microsoft (et al.) to send highly targeted advertisements to users.
Microsoft says the company uses most data to display personalised information to make your computer life easier. For example, Windows 10 (Cortana) can remind you to set off to the airport (Calendar/Mail) 30 minutes earlier due to traffic (Maps/Location/Internet – Traffic news). Good old helpful Microsoft!
But if you don’t need Microsoft’s help (and Android probably does it better in the above case) you can ‘privatise’ Windows 10.
The quest to ‘privatise’ Windows 10
When you set up Microsoft Windows the first time, you can turn-off several features and even set up an anonymous off-line login – not using a Microsoft Account. That does not impact the fundamental operation of Windows 10. But that is just the tip of a very big iceberg to uncover other privacy settings.
I don’t want to go into those settings in this article because its focus is on O&O ShutUp10 that will do it all for you.
This is more a story of how I got there.
I regularly use and highly recommend an excellent free disk cleaner called Wise Disk Cleaner to delete all browser cookies, traces and other garbage net surfing leaves on the PC (use it in its most aggressive mode). Over the past few months, I noticed that it was hanging and finally discovered a message that MS Edge or Internet Explorer was running and to close it to clear the cookies and cache.
Strange – I use Firefox as I think it is a better browser (for my needs) and you can turn off all reporting and block ads as well. So why was MS Edge and/or Internet Explorer running in the background when I do not use them?
A quick look at Task Manager reveals hundreds of background tasks. It turns out that Windows allows most of its apps to run in the background mode including Cortana, Windows Search, MS Edge, Internet Explorer, Maps, Messaging, Windows Store, Photos, Xbox and many more – just in case you need them to spring to life.
So, I went to Settings, Apps, Apps and Features and uninstalled everything I would never use. But no matter how I tried I could not get rid of
Next, I went to Settings, Privacy and turned everything off. Windows is good like that
App permissions, however, are a little more complex. For example, if you turn off the microphone or camera – well you can’t use them.
I painstakingly went through every heading and turned everything off.
A week later after a Windows 10 Update, I checked App Permissions, and most settings were back on! This is ‘normal behaviour’ as the Update can replace the core OS.
While researching this behaviour I came across O&O ShutUp10
I am impressed – make that very impressed.
The website is here. It is a small 886KB tool that requires no permissions, installation or signing your rights away in a EULA you will never read.
You download it, click on the .exe file and up comes a comprehensive listing of Windows Privacy settings, App Privacy, Security, MS Edge, Cloud synchronisation, Cortana, Location services, User behaviour, Windows Update, Windows Explorer, Windows Defender and SpyNet, Lock Screen, and Miscellaneous.
It is idiot proof. Under the Action menu, you can select
- Apply recommended settings
- Recommended and somewhat recommended settings
- All settings (for tin-foil hat wearers)
- Undo all settings to Microsoft Defaults (important for experimentation)
Under Help, there is a short guide that explains what things do.
Basically, in one easy step, it disables about 150 registry entries. It also creates a restore point if you experience issues – I didn’t.
And as a bonus, the altered registry entries usually stay in place – even after a large Windows 10 update. And Windows memory and CPU use have cut in half – it is so much faster.
I have tested the product now for about a month and settled on the ‘Recommended and somewhat recommended settings’ with one tweak – to enable ‘Prohibit any background apps’. I am not sure if that will cause issues, but if it does, then they are easy to fix.
See screen shots below for before and after applying settings.
If you are a tin-foil hat wearer read 14 Essential Windows 10 Privacy Settings here.