Windows 10 Cortana and Privacy (you do have SOME control)
If you have a fairly decent computer and you know your way around some of the tools for managing the OS you may have noticed the Task Manager has an additional Column showing the real-time statistics for your computer’s Graphics Processor GPU. (figure 1) This Column will appear even if your computer is using the graphics capabilities of the CPU and you do not have an additional processor “dedicated to graphics” That is to say, Intel, for example, in many desktop-class CPU's had dedicated a significant portion of that processor to graphics output. This is still the case but the GPU embedded into the CPU can now process non-graphics instruction using Windows 10 and this activity appears in the GPU Engine column as it would with discrete or stand alone GPUs
What you might not know it how important the GPU is to the overall performance of your computer, regardless of the graphics requirements of an application you are working with. That is because the GPU is capable of working in tandem with the CPU to aid in processing much more than just graphics. In many cases the GPU carries the bulk of the Applications you are using while the CPU is managing background operations required by the operating system. You can see the applications that the GPU is running in the system tray depending on the type of graphics card you have. NVidia does a great job of showing you what their GPU is doing. (figure 2)
In this example, my GPU is running several programs and leaving the CPU to coast along. (figure 3) As I write this document, I have three monitors displaying various web pages, my Website Editing tools, Photoshop, and remote access to another computer in my office. I am not really using the power of the GPU to handle the complexities of a 3d render and as you can see I am hardly using any of the CPU’s power. And yet I have a dozen applications running that I am aware of. In addition to the apps I am aware of, often the GPU will even take on the workload of background processes. This happens without complex modifications or additional setup work for the average PC user.
The new operating systems are smart enough to examine the hardware resources available and determine which way to use the individual items to optimize the work environment for you. That is certainly one of the great things about Windows 10, but as with most things, this is a double edged sword.
While you are working or even while your computer is sitting by apparently idle, hundreds of services, tasks and operations are taking place in the background. Some of them benefit the end user greatly, like indexing files and content, so searching can happen instantly when needed. Other background operations benefit the software vendor more than the user perhaps.
These applications and built in programs are usually set to run in the background by default and make no mistake data is being collected and used to perfect that digital profile of who you are and what you do with your computer aided by the background operations.
Microsoft tells you clearly in the EULA that this is happening, and they even admit there is no way to completely turn off Cortana and its ability to track what you are doing. But you CAN and SHOULD know exactly which functions are running in the background by default and you CAN AND SHOULD review them, and turn several of them off. These apps do not need to be running in the background in order to use them. They have no business starting when Windows starts and you can be sure that they are using resources that would otherwise make your computer perform better if they were not in a persistent state of readiness.
Input and output devices and an applications ability to access and use these devices are at the top of the list when it comes to privacy concerns and today’s computers, applications, browsers and operating systems. Everyone should be aware when they are giving an application the right and the ability to track them or to even listen to them. So I urge everyone using Windows 10 to take a few moments and review the privacy settings in their system, and after you get over the shock of just how many applications are running in the background, and how many applications have access to your multimedia devices, take the time to turn a whole lot of them off. Remember, you are turning off the applications ability to run silently in the background, you are not turning the application off entirely, you will still be able to use it when and if YOU want to.
Here is how you can manage these items instead of letting them manage you.
Click the windows flag in the bottom left corner and in the Cortana dialog box type “Privacy Settings” (figure 4) Click the corresponding link at the top of the list (figure 5)
Now the main system window should give you General Privacy Settings Menu. (figure 6) There are quite a few paths that can be explored and configured according to your needs and i urge everyone to take the time to get a sense of the control and decisions about your personal information you are giving to Microsoft and the applications running on the platform in each general category,, for now, let’s concentrate on the background apps
Scroll down the column of choices on the left side of the window and find and click “Background Apps” (figure 7)
You will see the list of background apps and the state they are currently set to (on or off) (figure 8) Take a moment scroll through the list of background apps which are set to “ON” by default, pick your jaw up off the floor, compose yourself, and spend some time turning a whole lot of them off.
Realistically, none of them need to be on in order to have your computer function, but some do serve a legitimate purpose and it may be in your best interest to leave them in the on position, but much of these things have no business being allowed to run in the background, and again, they are using resources which can be put to better use by the tasks you are actually working on.
Your computers resources are there for a reason, and the more robust your computer is, will dictate which helpful background operations can run on an constant bases to allow you to multi task and work at a fast pace without the need to wait for your computer to catch up. Your computer is also going to learn how to best server you over time, especially when there is a limited amount of RAM to work with for example. The computer will learn what parts of the OS are generally needed in your work, and will allow them to run in the background and remain in the memory of the computer. So again, by no means are all back ground applications a bad thing. Some, like virus scanning should be running all the time, and if your system shows that real time scanning is off, you should use this control panel to adjust the protection application properly.
Once you have configured the background applications to your satisfaction and you are ready to get back to work,y ou can then close out of the window and if there are some functional changes that you notice you were better off leaving on, simply go back in and turn them on.
Privacy will never be defined as it once was. That genie is out of the bottle for good, but at the very least be aware that your privacy is very limited and you should have some control over it. Hope that helps. If you want more tips you can follow us on Twitter and we will dig deeper into the privacy issues that should concern everyone along with other functions of your computer which you would probably love to know about but were never told. WE SHALL TELL YOU!
If you would like some additional info we will be glad to try and answer your questions. If you are not a Brooks ePC customer, we will do whatever we can to give you info you are requesting or provide you with the adequate source. If you have a small business and would like a security checkup, we can certainly schedule one, and complete the process remotely and securely. We are not in the business of pointing out unnecessary repairs, we are in the business of doing our part to help us all work towards a safer Internet to conduct business. We are all in this together, all linked by one giant network and the network is truly only as safe