Windows’ Photographic Memory Feature, Recall, Wants You to Trust Microsoft More Than Any Other Company

  • Many user comments on forums and social networks reflect the same response: People are calling Recall “a privacy nightmare.”

  • Microsoft pointed out that it lets users disable or limit its new star feature, but the complaints continue.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
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It’s hard to believe in a company that has betrayed your trust, and Microsoft has done so repeatedly. The company used its dominant position to install Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player on all computers. Furthermore, in the cause of Teams and OneDrive, it forced users to try some of its applications.

These are just a few examples of a long history where the company has done everything possible to maintain its privileged position. In some cases, these decisions have been costly, not so much in economic terms but rather in another, even more important aspect: user confidence and trust.

In this regard, users and technology experts have repeatedly criticized Windows’ new AI feature, Recall, which acts as the operating system’s photographic memory.

Recall works in a simple way: It continuously takes snapshots as users perform tasks on their computers. Then, it catalogs and tags those screenshots so users can easily and quickly find what they need from that set of images.

What would users have thought of Recall if Microsoft hadn’t created it? The idea isn’t new: The Limitless app (formerly Rewind), available for MacOS, iOS, and Windows, does something similar. However, the difference is that Microsoft offers Recall as a fully integrated part of its operating system, leveraging the power of the new AI chips in its Copilot+ PCs.

Since Recall is a Microsoft product, there's been much criticism of the feature on social networks. X CEO Elon Musk, for example, compared it to the Netflix series Black Mirror, adding that maybe it’s time to move to Linux. Others pointed out that this new feature takes you back to the dystopia of George Orwell’s novel 1984 or joke that it’s cool that operating systems are now basically spyware.

On Reddit, the criticism of this Copilot+ feature is also constant. In several threads, users said that Recall is a huge security threat, sounds terrible, and is a “privacy nightmare.”

The company hasn't responded to comments like these. But Recall's demo and press release has made one thing clear: Privacy is at the heart of this new AI-powered feature. In the Copilot+ FAQ section, Microsoft states the following:

  • Data is stored, processed, and used on the device (known as “edge computing”). There’s no data transferred to the cloud.
  • Users can limit the snapshots Recall collects.
  • They can select specific apps or websites visited to filter snapshots, as well as pause (or turn off) snapshots and delete some or all of them.
  • Edge doesn’t take snapshots of private browsing sessions or DRM material.

Either way, the risk exists, and Microsoft explains that Recall, for example, “won’t hide information such as passwords or account numbers. This data could be included in the snapshots stored on your device, especially if sites don’t follow standard Internet protocols, such as password masking.”

Basically: Your information is exposed, which raises concerns. If someone has access to your PC, Recall will be an easy way to collect not only your interests and recent activity, but also rather sensitive data like passwords or bank account numbers that appear in those snapshots.

Could Microsoft do something to “hide” this data from the snapshots? Probably so. If the AI recognizes this as sensitive info, it could cover or blur it and only provide it if the user has a password or security PIN. The company could also require users to use an authentication app to view this information.

Would something like this be enough to silence all criticism? Probably not. There are so many doubts about Recall that the UK government has contacted Microsoft to ask how the Copilot+ feature works. Recall is one of the most eye-catching Windows tools in years, and it helps solve everyday user problems: “When did I do that? What was that thing I wrote/said/or that someone told me?”

For many users, however, the fact that Recall is constantly recording their activity is more disturbing. However, it’s ironic, especially since we experience the same thing everyday. All of us use mobile browsers, search engines, and social media, which means that Google, Facebook, and TikTok are trying to track what we're doing.

In general, we don’t seem to care too much about our data ending up in these companies’ clouds, even though we know that all that information can be used for the most disturbing purposes. Case in point: Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. In that situation, the British consulting firm collected data from millions of users of the social network without their consent, primarily to use it for political propaganda purposes.

Everyone spies, that’s true. Microsoft collects data, of course, but it’s neither the first nor the last company to do so. It's also proposing ways to mitigate the damage.

Will Recall end up being another way for a tech company to spy on its users? Microsoft offers many options for controlling how this feature works, although it could improve the issue of visible passwords. However, we’re talking about Microsoft.

And almost nobody trusts the company anymore.

Related | Microsoft Surface Pro and Surface Laptop: The AI-Powered ARM Revolution in Windows Has Begun

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