Cortana is Microsoft’s answer as a personal digital assistant. With Google’s Now and Apple’s Siri, Cortana was the next step in digitized helpfulness. Like many computer functions that personalize themselves to your needs, Cortana collects a lot of information about you to work.
Although Cortana can tell you anything you need to know that is available on the web, similar to a verbally activated search engine, the service also keeps track of packages you send, provides up-to-date flight information and gives you daily reminders if you want.
The problem with Cortana is that it keeps track of you even if you are not using it. For this reason, many people want to disable it to prevent Microsoft from collecting data on them. Also as a background program, it consumes a lot of memory when it is running. Disabling Cortana is a relatively simple process, but unlike its Google and Apple counterparts, preventing it from running in the background is a little bit more tricky.
As with other services, Cortana makes life easier for many users. If the biggest problem you have with Cortana is the fact it collects so much information about you, keep in mind that most web-based services do this. Cookies and spyware are added to your computer at every website. Even free e-mail providers such as Yahoo! make you agree to allow them to scan every e-mail you send and receive so they can mine data about you.
Very little can be done online these days privately, and there is no sign that this trend will change in the future. Microsoft provides a few methods for reducing how Cortana tracks you, and these might be your best options if you want a little more privacy. We will explain these methods with more permanent ones such as editing the group policy manager or registry.
Another problem users have with Cortana is how it continually runs in the background and consumes processing power. Windows 10 allows you to “Disable” Cortana, so it does not interfere in your regular activities, but this does not prevent it from consuming some background CPU. This is because the “Cortana” you see in the Task Manager is its search feature called SearchIU.exe. Although you can creatively disable this, you will also lose all ability to search your computer, and you may lose other taskbar features.
Cortana is linked to the search feature (and other features) in Windows 10. This means even disabling Cortana with the methods Microsoft supports will also disable your ability to use Windows to set reminders, disable any personalized news, and of course, you won’t be able to ask Cortana to tell you a joke or see what kind of silly answer it will give to a silly question you ask. Also, you won’t have the same level of search power that you have with Cortana enabled. The more drastic methods you use to rid yourself of Cortana, the more you will find Windows 10 functionality is limited.
Before the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, it was relatively easy to switch Cortana off. With each consecutive update, Microsoft makes it more difficult to disable it permanently. Each of the following methods will work to disable the digital assistant at different levels.
If you merely want Cortana to be hidden, you can do this quickly.
Right-click on the taskbar. In the menu that opens click on “Cortana.” Make sure “Hidden” is selected.
This method is the only method Windows 10 supports. Using it, you can limit how much information Cortana records.
Click the “Settings” icon in the Start menu.
First, choose “Privacy” from the Settings window.
Right-click on “Speech, inking, & typing.” Then click “Stop getting to know me” and “Turn off” when the pop-up box appears.
Once that is done, click “Home” in the upper left-hand corner to return to the Settings window. This time, choose “Cortana” from the list that populates.
Choose “Talk to Cortana” and make sure all the settings are “off.”
Click “Permissions & History” and make sure “Cloud Search” and “History” are “off.” Click on “Clear my device history.”
Click “Cortana across my devices” and make sure the settings are “off.”
Finally, close that window and go to Microsoft’s privacy settings here. Once you sign in, you can delete the information Cortana has already collected about you.
This method limits the data Cortana is collecting, but you will still need to check your settings and clear your history periodically to be safe. This is especially true after major updates to Windows 10. Turning off Cortana on one device will not stop her from gathering data on other devices of yours where she is installed. This is another reason to periodically check your online Microsoft account and clear the data stored there.
This will only work if you have Windows Pro or Windows Enterprise. Most versions of Windows Education already have Cortana permanently disabled. Windows Home users will not have access to the Group Policy Editor and will see a warning appear like the one below if they try this method.
Press the [R] key and the [Windows] key at the same time on the keyboard. This launches the Run box. Type “gpedit.msc” into the box and press [Enter].
From the list on the left, click “Computer Configuration” then “Administrative Templates” and then “Windows Components.”
Open the “Search” folder, and a list of options should appear on the right of the screen. Double-click “Allow Cortana.”
In the pop-up window that appears, select “Disable.” Then click “Apply” and “OK.”
Now, you need to restart your computer. Click the Power icon in the Start menu and choose “Restart” to turn off Cortana.
The Group Policy Editor is one way to shut down Cortana, but if this option is not available on your version of Windows, continue to the next method.
Editing the registry is the only option for users who have the Home version and want to completely disable Cortana beyond what Microsoft offers. However, editing the registry is not something that newer users should attempt. Make sure you create a system restore point before you continue. Even when you follow the instructions carefully, you may have unwanted side effects. Making a mistake when following these steps can cause system instability and require you to reinstall Windows.
Press the [R] key and the [Windows] key at the same time to access the Run box. Type in “regedit” without quotation marks and hit [Enter]. If you see a warning about the app making changes to the registry, click “Yes” to continue.
From the list on the left select “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE” and then “SOFTWARE.” Then select “Policies” and “Microsoft” and finally “Windows.”
When you open the “Windows” folder, look for “Windows Search.” If you see it, click on it and continue to Step #4. Otherwise, you will need to create this folder. To do this, right click on the “Windows” folder you just opened. Choose “New” then select “Key.” You should be able to name the new key in the list. Call it “Windows Search.” Right-click on the newly created key to select it.
When you right-click “Windows Search” you need to choose “New” and then “DWORD (32-bit Value).”
Name this “AllowCortana” (no space between the words and no quotation marks). Set the Value data to “0.”
Now, go to the Start menu and click the Power icon and choose to restart. When you do this, the Cortana search bar will be replaced with a regular search option.
Since Microsoft has integrated Cortana with its search feature so deeply on Windows 10, even after the registry edit you will still see “Cortana” listed in the Task Manager and running in the background. This is the SearchUi.exe discussed earlier. You can verify this by clicking on the Cortana service that is running and choosing “Go to Details.” However, if you want to get rid of this option so it is no longer constantly running and you don’t mind that it will also break the Windows Start menu search function, you can use the following method to do so. You will probably need to repeat these steps after any major Windows update.
Open the File Explorer by typing “File Explorer” into the Start menu search bar. You could also click on the “Documents” icon. In file explorer, navigate click on “This PC” and select the “C:” drive.
Find the “Windows” file and open it. Then, open “SystemApps.”
Find the folder named “Microsoft.Windows.Cortana_cw5n1h2txyewy.” Slowly click twice on the folder and rename it “xMicrosoft.Windows.Cortana_cw5n1h2txyewy” or something else different but make sure you name it something you will remember so you can find it again if you need to return it to its original state. When you try to rename it, you will get a message saying “Folder Access Denied.” Click “Continue.”
Click “Continue.” When you get the message asking if you want to allow an app to make changes choose yes.
You will see a message telling you the Folder is in use. Without closing this window, open the task manager by right-clicking on the taskbar and choosing “Task manager.”
In the task manager, click Cortana and then “End Task.” Quickly switch to the “File In Use” window and click “Try Again.” You must do these quickly or Cortana will restart and not allow you to change the folder name. If you don’t do it quickly enough, simply try again.
If you decide you miss the Start menu search functionality, you can go back through these steps and return the Cortana folder to its original name. Since it should not be running, it should be easier to change the name back.