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Privacy checkup: How to find everything Microsoft knows about you

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.

We’ve told you how to find out what Facebook and Google know about you, 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.

There is a simple way to find out what information Microsoft knows about you. Just follow these instructions to get informed.

What Microsoft collects

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.”

Next, let’s see what Microsoft knows.

Privacy dashboard

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.

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Activity history

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 don’t 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 don’t have any data associated with this Microsoft account at the moment.”

If you’re OK with what you see, then take a deep breath and go about your day. If you’re concerned about the data being collected, then you can choose to clear your data. More on that in a moment.

Download your data

You can keep a copy of your activity history for posterity if you like. Microsoft warns, “Downloaded archives may contain sensitive content, such as your search history, location information, and other personal data. Do not download your archive to a public computer or any other location where others might be able to access it.”

To get your information, click on the “Download your data” link. Hit the “Create new archive” button, choose the data you want to download, and then click on “Create archive.” It may take a few minutes for Microsoft to generate the archive, but you can download it once it’s ready. Just be sure to take Microsoft’s advice and keep your archive secure.

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Clear your personal data

Back at the main Privacy dashboard, you will see 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’s a personal decision as to whether you want to delete this data or allow Microsoft to hang onto it. If you’re 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’s good to know exactly what data Microsoft keeps tabs on.

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