Killing Cortana: How to disable Windows 10's info-hungry digital assistant

Cortana, Microsoft's smart, snarky digital assistant, is one of the highlight features of Windows 10, imbuing the operating system with a sense of presence that never existed in previous versions of Windows. Cortana's natural language search capabilities rock, and her intelligent surfacing of news and notifications that matter to you help to tailor Windows 10 to suit your specific needs. I'm in love already.

But not everyone will take kindly to Cortana.

Cortana's usefulness stems from her connectedness. The assistant taps Bing for web searches and Microsoft's machine learning in the cloud to deliver those awesome personalization features. The more Cortana knows about you, your location, your friends, and your calendar and email, the better she's able to provide a personally tailored experience. But all that data you're shoveling at Cortana travels straight through Microsoft.

Fortunately, Microsoft provides you with tools to disable Cortana and erase your footprint in its servers if you're so inclined. (And Microsoft deserve props for doing so!) Here's how.

How to disable Cortana in Windows 10

Microsoft actually makes the process pretty simple.

Open Cortana, click the Notebook icon in its left-hand options pane, then select Settings from the list. A bunch of options will appear. You'll want to slide "Cortana can give you suggestions, ideas, reminders, alerts and more" to off, which disables the assistant on the PC and removes all locally stored data she knows about you.

But you're not necessarily done yet.

Because Cortana's brains are based in the cloud, you'll likely want to wipe your data from Microsoft's servers as well. To do so, click the "Manage what Cortana knows about me in the cloud" link. Your primary browser will open to your personalization settings page in Bing. You'll want to press the Clear buttons in the "Clear personal info" and "Other Cortana data and personalized speech, inking and typing" sections. If you initially allowed Cortana access to your location info, consider following the link to Bing Maps to wipe that, as well.

Feel free to peruse the rest of the options if you want to clear data from other Microsoft services as well. If you're this concerned about sharing data with the company, you may also want to open the Start menu and head to Settings > Privacy to peruse all the other ways you may be sending information to Redmond, as well as the "Sync your settings" submenu in Start menu > Settings > Accounts.

What you'll miss, what you'll keep

And with that you're done! The search area remains in the Windows taskbar sans Cortana's "Ask me anything" verbiage, but be warned: You won't be able to use any of its Cortana-enabled services, like setting reminders, getting personalized news, receiving up-to-date travel info, or asking goofy questions.

You will, however, be able to search for files, system settings, and terms as before. (Oddly, if you search for a general term--like "Windows 10"--files related to the term won't appear unless you manually click the "My stuff" button at the bottom of the web search suggestions.) That said, you won't be able to tap Cortana's smarts to perform natural language queries like "Find pictures from June" either, so narrowing down file search results may take a bit more work.

If you ever change your mind and bring the digital assistant back to life via the search settings, don't worry: Cortana will welcome you back with open arms.

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Brad Chacos

PC World (US online)
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