Microsoft ‘Recalls’ AI Screenshots After Backlash

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Microsoft takes step back on ‘Recall’ AI screenshot feature on Copilot+ PCs after critics compare it to pre-installed spyware

Microsoft has made significant changes to the “Recall” artificial intelligence (AI) feature built into upcoming Copilot+ PCs after critics called it a potential “privacy nightmare”.

When the company launched Copilot+ PCs last month it said Recall, which would be turned on by default, would take screenshots every five seconds and index them, allowing the Copilot artificial intelligence (AI) assistant to quickly remind users of their previous activities.

Industry watchers quickly highlighted the potential security issues posed by the system, should the detailed record of users’ actions on their PC be accessed by hackers or other outsiders, comparing it to preinstalled spyware.

The UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said at the time it was “making enquiries” with Microsoft about the feature and the “safeguards in place to protect user privacy”.

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Image credit: Microsoft

Disabled by default

Microsoft has now responded by saying the system will require users to activate it during system set-up and would otherwise be turned off, and by increasing security protections for accessing the data.

The company is giving people “a clearer choice to opt-in to saving snapshots using Recall”, said Pavan Davuluri, vice president for Windows and devices, in a Friday blog post.

“If you don’t proactively choose to turn it on, it will be off by default,” he said.

Davuluri said the system would require Microsoft’s Hello authentication feature any time they wanted to turn it on or access data, a system that can be configured to require a PIN or biometric check of a face or thumbprint.

Recall’s data will remain encrypted in storage until Hello authentication is carried out, Davuluri said.

Recall and other AI features were featured heavily at Microsoft’s developer conference in May and the company is counting on them to drive renewed PC sales following a two-year slump following accelerated computer take-up during the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘Access virtually anything’

During a keynote speech vice president Yusuf Mehdi compared Recall to photographic memory and said users could use AI “to make it possible to access virtually anything you have ever seen on your PC”.

Industry-watchers have cautioned that this may take on another meaning where it comes not only to hackers, but also issues such as legal discovery, where corporate employees could be forced to give access to the data trove.

Initially Microsoft planned to switch Recall on by default, but would allow users to turn it off or to control what was captured, such as opting out of allowing private browsing to appear in screenshots.

Copilot+ PCs, which build OpenAI-powered AI systems into the user’s workflow use new chips from Qualcomm, AMD and Intel and even include a dedicated Copilot key on the keyboard, are set to launch on 18 June.