It’s no secret how much Big Tech companies know about all of us. I bet Google comes to mind first. Tap or click here to see everything Google has on you with one quick download.
I’d be remiss not to mention Facebook, which isn’t exactly careful with your info. Tap or click here for the essential settings to secure your account.
But did you know Microsoft knows a lot about you too? There’s a simple way to see it all. Just follow these instructions to get informed and wipe out anything you don’t want to be stored.
What Microsoft collects
Microsoft could potentially have an 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.
Microsoft says it collects this data “to help make your experience with our products and services more personalized, useful, and fun.” OK then.
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. Tap or click here to access the dashboard.
You may need to log in to your Microsoft account to access this page. The overview area will help orient you and put a whole host of privacy-related links and controls at your fingertips. You can set ad preferences, manage apps and services, and control your privacy settings in products like Microsoft Office.
Office is expensive. I know how to save big bucks on it. Tap or click to see how you can get the real-deal software for free, at least for a little while.
If you don’t need Office but want a robust word processor, tap or click for an excellent free alternative.
Look for the link called “Activity history” and click on it 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 in to your Windows device using a Microsoft account, you might not see much data listed in your activity history. If this is the case, 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, take a deep breath and go about your day. If you’re concerned about the data being collected, you can choose to clear it — 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 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.
While you’re at it, you can download all the photos you’ve ever posted to Facebook. Tap or click here if you’re ready to ditch Facebook or want copies for posterity.
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 that clearing data will impact how certain services work. It’s a personal decision 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 that one alone.
You may be entirely comfortable with the information Microsoft collects, or you may guard your privacy to the extent that you want to wipe it all out. Regardless of what you choose, it’s good to know exactly what data Microsoft keeps tabs on.
BONUS KNOW-HOW TO BE SMARTER: How to delete yourself from the internet
Microsoft is far from the only site to collect and store your info. Countless places across the web store your personal data, and in some cases, it’s easily accessible to those who know where to look. Tap or click here to remove yourself from people search sites, delete unused accounts, and much more.