Microsoft Copilot+ Recall feature ‘privacy nightmare’

image source, Microsoft giveaway provided by PA

Image caption, Microsoft boss Satya Nadella at the presentation of the artificial intelligence assistant Copilot+

  • author, Imran Rahman-Jones
  • role Technology reporter

Britain’s data watchdog says it is “making inquiries to Microsoft” about a new feature that can take screenshots of your laptop every few seconds.

Microsoft says that Recall, which will store encrypted snapshots locally on your PC, is exclusive to upcoming Copilot+ PCs.

But the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) says it is contacting Microsoft for more information about the safety of the product, which privacy advocates have called a potential “privacy nightmare”.

Microsoft says Recall is an “optional experience” and is committed to privacy and security.

“Retrieval data is only stored locally and is not accessible by Microsoft or anyone who does not have access to the device,” the company said in a statement.

And it said that a would-be hacker would have to physically access your device, unlock it, and log in before they could access the saved screenshots.

However, an ICO spokesman said firms must “rigorously assess and mitigate the risks to people’s rights and freedoms” before bringing new products to market.

“We are making inquiries with Microsoft to understand the safeguards in place to protect user privacy,” they said.

“cooling off”

Recall has the ability to search through all past user actions, including files, photos, emails, and browsing history.

Many devices can already do this – but Recall also takes screenshots every few seconds and searches through them too.

“This could be a privacy nightmare,” said Dr. Chris Srishak, an AI and privacy consultant.

“The very fact that screenshots will be taken while using the device can have a chilling effect on people.”

Microsoft says it “built privacy into the design of Recall” from the start, and users will have control over what is captured.

For example, users can opt out of certain websites being captured, and private browsing in Microsoft’s own Edge browser will not be captured.

“People may avoid visiting certain websites and accessing documents, especially confidential documents, when Microsoft takes screenshots every few seconds,” Dr Srishak said.

And Daniel Tozer, a data and privacy expert at Keystone Law, said the system reminded him of the dystopian Netflix program Black Mirror.

“Microsoft would need a legal basis to record and re-display a user’s personal information,” he said.

“The screen may contain information that is private or confidential to the user’s employer; will businesses be happy for microsoft to record this?

And he asked how consent would work for people who appear on the screen in a video call or photo.

“Will they be given a choice whether to go along with it? User and access control will be a key issue that Microsoft will no doubt focus on,” he said.

Passwords are captured from the screen

Meanwhile, Jen Caltrider, who leads the privacy team at Mozilla, suggested that the plans mean that someone who knows your password can now access your history in more detail.

“[This includes] court orders from law enforcement or even from Microsoft if they change their mind to keep all that content local and not use it to target advertising or train their AIs down the line,” she said.

According to Microsoft Recall, it will not moderate or remove information from screenshots that contain passwords or financial account information.

“I wouldn’t want to use a computer running Recall to do something I wouldn’t do in front of a bus full of strangers,” Ms Caltrider said.

“This means no more logging into financial accounts, searching for sensitive health information, asking embarrassing questions, or even searching for information about a domestic violence shelter, reproductive health clinic, or immigration attorney.”

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