AI news
May 22, 2024

Windows 11's New “Recall” Feature Will Takes Screenshots Of Your PC Every Few Seconds

Would you allow an AI to take constant screenshots of whatever you do on your PC?

Jim Clyde Monge
by 
Jim Clyde Monge

The week full of company drama and mind-blowing AI product announcements isn’t over yet.

It’s one heck of a week in the world of AI.

But don’t put your popcorn away just yet, because Microsoft has just announced a slew of brand new AI-powered hardware and software at Microsoft Build 2024.

No, I won’t be covering all the new products in this article. Instead, I’ll focus on one feature that triggered my ick as an AI enthusiast. The new feature is called “Recall”.

What is Recall?

This new AI-powered tool can search and recall anything you’ve seen or done on your Windows 11 PC, including activities in apps, communications in live meetings, and websites visited for research, by taking constant screenshots.

Essentially, it’s an upgraded version of Windows Timeline, which was introduced back in Windows 10 but discontinued because it didn’t gain traction among users.

Microsoft recall

How often does Recall take screenshots?

It uses Copilot+ PC advanced processing capabilities to take images of your active screen every few seconds. Yes, that level of excessive surveillance is comparable to security cameras.

Imagine handing your laptop to your wife, forgetting about last night’s steamy incognito searches, and having Recall eagerly offer to pull up the “busty babes” results again — that’s awkward.

Would you still want this feature enabled on your machine? I don’t think so. Not only that, but it also takes up a massive amount of storage space on your local disk.

How does it work?

To open Recall, you can use the keyboard shortcut +J or click the Recall icon on your taskbar. Your timeline in Recall is segmented into blocks of time when Recall was taking snapshots as you used your PC.

You can hover over these timeline segments to preview your activity. Clicking on a segment or preview window loads the corresponding snapshot, allowing you to interact with the content.

Suppose you want to find that pizza recipe you saw earlier but can’t remember where. Simply type “goat cheese pizza” into the search box, and Recall will find it.

If you don’t remember the exact details, you can search for broader terms like “pizza” or “cheese,” though this may yield more results. You can also use voice search by selecting the microphone icon and speaking your query.

The minimum storage space required to run this feature is 50 GB.

The minimum hard drive space needed to run Recall is 256 GB, and 50 GB of space must be available. The default allocation for Recall on a device with 256 GB will be 25 GB, which can store approximately 3 months of snapshots. You can increase the storage allocation for Recall in your PC Settings. Old snapshots will be deleted once you use your allocated storage, allowing new ones to be stored.

So you’re pretty much left with 200 GB of space if you buy a 256 GB model and decide to turn on this feature. That’s a bummer if you are a heavy user.

How safe is it?

I know, I know, there’s a high level of privacy and security concern about this product even Elon Musk expressed concern on X and called it a Black Mirror episode.

It’s also important to note that Recall won’t actively hide sensitive information like passwords and financial account numbers that appear on-screen — that’s a potential gross violation of user privacy.

To be fair with Microsoft, though, the snapshots are encrypted and saved on your PC’s hard drive instead of being sent to a remote server. They are linked to a particular user account.

“Recall screenshots are only linked to a specific user profile and Recall does not share them with other users, make them available for Microsoft to view, or use them for targeting advertisements. Screenshots are only available to the person whose profile was used to sign in to the device.” — Microsoft
Microsoft

Users can pause, stop, or delete captured content and can exclude specific apps or websites from being recorded. Recall won’t take snapshots of InPrivate web browsing sessions in Microsoft Edge or DRM-protected content.

Additionally, this feature is only available to the new “Copilot Plus PCs” powered by Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon X Elite chips, which have the neural processing unit (NPU) required for Recall to work.

Okay, that’s easy for them to blurt out assurances that the product is safe and our data is secure. But how do we really know that enterprises like Microsoft are not sniffing at our data to train their AI models?

Data leaks are 100% going to happen, no matter how much these companies act like they won’t.

When will it be available?

Recall isn’t generally available yet.

According to Microsoft, the product is still under development and could still improve to be more secure.

“During this phase, we will collect customer feedback, develop more controls for enterprise customers to manage and govern Recall data, and improve the overall experience for users.”

The AI-enhanced Windows PCs will start rolling out on June 18 on computers made by Microsoft partners Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Samsung, as well as on Microsoft’s Surface line of devices.

Final Thoughts

While it may seem useful to a small demographic, such as those with memory challenges or the elderly, for the average worker, it appears more invasive than helpful. I am not particularly keen on Microsoft installing an AI system that records everything I do on my PC.

If companies enable this by default, it’ll be a massive invasion of privacy, giving employers the ability to spy on employee activities. This isn’t entirely new, but integrating the feature deep within the operating system makes it more accessible and easier for other companies to implement.

For me, this ultimately feels like a gross violation of user privacy. Despite assurances from Microsoft, the potential for misuse and data leaks is high. The risks outweigh the benefits, so I would prefer this feature to be disabled by default.