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When asked about Windows Recall privacy concerns, Microsoft researcher gives non-answer (updated)

A hot potato: Microsoft’s Recall feature is being universally slammed for the privacy implications that come from screenshotting everything you do on a computer. However, at least one person seems to think the concerns are overblown. Unsurprisingly, it’s Microsoft Research’s chief scientist, who didn’t really give an answer when asked about Recall’s negative points.

Update: Following some backlash and criticism regarding the security of the new Windows Recall feature in upcoming Copilot+ PCs, Microsoft has revised their stance on how it plans to implement it.

First is that Recall will be opt-in only, meaning it will off by default (Microsoft had planned for the opposite). Windows Hello enrollment will be mandatory for enabling Recall and with that “just in time” decryption of data, ensuring Recall snapshots are only decrypted and accessible upon user authentication. The search index database will also be encrypted for added security – honestly it should have never been any other way.

Even before making Recall available to customers, we have heard a clear signal that we can make it easier for people to choose to enable Recall on their Copilot+ PC and improve privacy and security safeguards. With that in mind we are announcing updates that will go into effect before Recall (preview) ships to customers on June 18.

Microsoft made a big deal of Recall, one of the main features that will launch with the new Copilot+ PCs. It works by constantly taking screenshots of everything you do on a computer, presenting users with a scrollable timeline of past activity. The idea is that users can easily find something they’d been previously working on/looking at, thanks to the power of AI.

While Microsoft said all Recall data stays local and private on a PC, and users can pause or delete logging, it did admit that it won’t hide sensitive data such as passwords or payment details.

Earlier this week, security researcher Kevin Beaumont warned that Recall has security gaps “you can drive a plane through” as the OCR (optical character recognition) data for each snapshot is stored in a plaintext SQLite database file.

Jaime Teevan, chief scientist and technical fellow at Microsoft Research, doesn’t seem very concerned about the security implications of Recall. In an interview at an AI conference (via The Reg), Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the Stanford Digital Economy Lab, highlighted the backlash against Recall and the privacy challenges around the feature when it was announced.

Brynjolfsson asked Teevan to talk about the pluses and minuses of Recall and some of the risks it creates. The answer wasn’t exactly reassuring.

“Yeah, and so it’s a great question, Erik. This has come up throughout the morning as well – the importance of data. And this AI revolution that we’re in right now is really changing the way we understand data,” Teevan said.

After talking about Microsoft helping businesses manage their data, Teevan said, “And as individuals too, we have important data, the data that we interact with all the time, and there’s an opportunity to start thinking about how to do that and to start thinking about what it means to be able to capture and use that. But of course, we are rethinking what data means and how we use it, how we value it, how it gets used.”

So, not actually addressing Recall’s security issues at all, then. Teevan did reiterate that nothing the feature captures goes into the cloud, but she gave no new information that might assuage users’ concerns.

Last month brought news that a Windows enthusiast had managed to get Recall running on a laptop powered by an older Arm-based CPU – i.e., one without an NPU.

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