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Microsoft’s New AI Feature Raises Security Concerns with UK Watchdog

Published May 23, 2024 4:19 PM
Samantha Dunn
Published May 23, 2024 4:19 PM

Key Takeaways

  • The UK data watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), is scrutinizing Microsoft’s new feature, Recall
  • Recall can take screenshots of a user’s laptop every few seconds.
  • This feature, part of Microsoft’s forthcoming Copilot+ PCs, stores and encrypts snapshots locally on the user’s computer, prompting concerns over user privacy.

Microsoft’s announcements at Build 2024 generated significant attention around its AI updates, particularly the AI-powered ‘Recall’ feature in Windows 11. Now, however, it is garnering negative attention over the new product’s potential for privacy breaches.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), a UK-based privacy watchdog, is scrutinizing this feature, while many are calling for Recall to be turned off by default to ensure that only informed users activate it.

What is Microsoft Recall?

Recall, an AI feature exclusive to Copilot, records PC usage by taking screenshots every few seconds, allowing users to search through their past activity using advanced natural language processing.

A Microsoft web page  that outlines the product features states that Recall stores all data locally on the user’s PC, rather than sending it to the cloud, to mitigate the risk of data breaches.

The company also claims that it provides users control over the feature, including the ability to delete snapshots, adjust retention timeframes, and block specific apps or websites from being recorded.

Microsoft’s Privacy Safeguards

While Microsoft insists that Recall is an “optional experience” designed with privacy and security in mind, the UK watchdog ICO is seeking more information to ensure the safety and privacy of users’ data, echoing concerns raised by privacy campaigners who have labeled the feature a potential “privacy nightmare.”

Microsoft emphasizes that Recall is built to allow users to control what is captured. The tech company says users can limit the snapshots Recall collects and opt-out of capturing specific websites, ensuring private browsing sessions on Microsoft’s Edge browser remain unrecorded.  Microsoft also asserts that Recall data is stored locally and inaccessible to anyone without physical access to the device.

However, the ICO insists  that companies must rigorously assess and mitigate risks to individuals’ rights and freedoms before introducing new products to the market, and it is currently making inquiries to understand the safeguards Microsoft has implemented.

Despite Microsoft’s assurances, critics remain concerned about the potential for abuse and the broad implications for user privacy. Dr. Kris Shrishak, an AI and privacy adviser, spoke with the BBC  to warn of the “chilling effect” the constant screenshotting could have on users, deterring them from accessing sensitive documents or visiting certain websites.

More Bad News for Microsoft

A Microsoft outage on the 23rd May, 2024 has affected search capabilities for ChatGPT, Copilot, DuckDuckGo, and several other platforms. Users are experiencing significant disruptions, making it difficult to perform searches effectively.

Microsoft shared an update on X :

“We’re investigating an issue where users may be unable to access the Microsoft Copilot service. We’re working to isolate the cause of the issue. More information can be found in the admin center under CP795190.”

OpenAI has also stated it is investigating the issue.

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