In the future, Microsoft’s Cortana will be listening to every word you speak – and there’s no way turn it off.
At least, that’s how privacy advocates are treating the new Windows 10 Anniversary Update, which rolls out automatically on August 2.
Cortana is Microsoft’s digital assistant that sits in the taskbar. It’s replaced the default Windows search bar – the place you used to search for files and programs. In Windows 10, you could originally turn off Cortana and use a standard search bar.
With the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, however, Microsoft is disabling the feature. You can still remove Cortana’s search box from the Start menu bar, but you won’t be able to replace Cortana with an ordinary search bar.
Privacy advocates are freaking out, while others are saying the changes make sense. After all, unless you turned off all of the cloud-connected components of Windows 10, Microsoft already knows quite a bit about you – and making Cortana the default doesn’t change that.
As Microsoft explains,
“With the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, the search box is now Cortana. Customers can expect the same great search experience powered by Bing and Microsoft Edge with the added benefit of Cortana’s personality.”
Cortana has actually become more useful with this change. You have access to Cortana’s voice commands, for example, including the ability to send text messages or issue voice commands.
How to Turn Off Cortana in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update
Microsoft is making it difficult to deactivate Cortana. First of all, you can’t refuse to install the Anniversary Update. Microsoft has made Windows 10 updates mandatory for home users.
Instead of trying to turn off Cortana, you can cripple her data collection.
Go to Start > Settings > Privacy > Speech, inking, & typing, then click the Turn off button beside Stop getting to know me.
This will prevent Cortana from listening to your voice and waiting to hear the “Hey Cortana” command. It also prevents her from accessing your typing history or handwriting patterns. You won’t be able to use any dictation features in Windows 10 after you deactivate this.
To hide Cortana, right-click on her search bar and scroll up to Cortana, then select Hide Cortana or Show Cortana Icon. Condensing the Cortana menu down to just an icon can free up space on your taskbar, while hiding Cortana will cause it to disappear entirely.
Eerily enough, if you hide Cortana, but still left dictation on, then the Cortana box will re-appear when you say “Hey Cortana”.
Next, you’re going to want to make Cortana forget that she ever met you. To do that, go to Cortana’s settings screen and disable every slider that can be set to off. Then, click on Change what Cortana knows about me in the cloud, which can be found at the top of the settings panel. Click through the panels until you see Clear. Microsoft will delete all personal information Cortana knows about you.
If you’re extra concerned about your privacy, then consider going to Bing Maps and then editing your saved places. Cortana may have saved some places for you over the years, and you might want to clear those to make sure Microsoft knows nothing about you.
Ultimately, most people haven’t disabled Cortana and don’t care that Microsoft stores basic information about their system in the cloud. However, privacy advocates will want to be extra cautious after the release of the Anniversary Update.