Warning: Windows Chatbot Will Watch Literally Everything You Do

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File

Elon Musk called it "a Black Mirror episode" — a reference to Netflix's creepy Twilight Zone-inspired show — that he'll "definitely" be turning off, but Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says Windows is just trying to help.


It's a new feature named Recall, part of the company's Copilot AI chatbot, and it will screencap literally everything you do on your Windows or Surface computer to help you find stuff later.

Microsoft revealed Recall at the company's annual Build conference on Monday. By screencapping "everything users do on their PC, including activities in apps, communications in live meetings, and websites visited for research," according to Ars Technica, the Copilot AI will be able to find for you anything you've ever done, read, or looked at — even if you can't remember what it was.

"As you use your PC, Recall takes snapshots of your screen," Microsoft's support page explained. "Snapshots are taken every five seconds… and [are] locally analyzed on your PC. Recall’s analysis allows you to search for content, including both images and text, using natural language."

Screencaps will be stored locally and encrypted but anyone with a user's password or biometric login would have access. To say that Recall "raises privacy concerns," as Ars did, is sublimely British in its understatement.

I'm not sure I want that much help even if I did need it. For a less generous (but possibly more accurate) take, Trusted Reviews' Chris Smith says that Recall is just Microsoft's way of getting around "how crap the current file search tool is for Windows PCs."


"You can select which apps and websites you want to exclude, such as banking apps and websites," Microsoft says. But there's a big caveat: "You’ll need to use a supported browser for Recall to filter websites and to automatically filter private browsing activity." For now, at least, Microsoft's own Edge browser is the only one fully supported to protect privacy. Keep in mind also that users will have to set up those privacy exclusions on their own, which is probably beyond the skills or knowledge of millions of people. 

Recall also requires a minimum of 50GB of hard drive space which might make things a little tight for people with smaller SSD storage.

If Recall sounds like a privacy concern to you — it certainly would be to me — it isn't coming to all Windows PCs and it can be turned off.

"Recall is an enhanced version of the now-discontinued Timeline feature in Windows 10," Trading View reported on Monday, "and is available on new 'Copilot Plus PCs' powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X Elite chips." Microsoft's support page doesn't explain why but I suspect that Recall requires the neural processing unit (NPU) built into that Snapdragon chip. When, or even if, Recall is coming to more ubiquitous Intel/AMD-powered PCs isn't clear.


To turn off Recall, simply go to Privacy & Security > Recall & Snapshots in your Settings app, disable the Save Snapshots option, and from there you can even hit "Delete Snapshots," if there are any.

Still, I can't help but think there's never been a better time to be a Linux or Mac user. 

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