Why would anyone even want this?

Total Recall

Microsoft has just unveiled a forthcoming Windows AI feature to help users "recall" all their past activities — by recording everything they do in real-time.

As Microsoft explains on its website, the feature — which is called "Recall" and is still being tested — takes "images of your active screen every few seconds."

"The snapshots are encrypted and saved on your PC’s hard drive," the description continues. "You can use Recall to locate the content you have viewed on your PC using search or on a timeline bar that allows you to scroll through your snapshots."

This functionality, as Ars Technica explains, extends beyond mere snapshots of your screen to include on-demand transcription and translation of video meetings and can show provide context for what they were doing during a given moment.

In other words, it sounds a lot like "Big Brother" for the small screen.

Privacy Policy

While Microsoft insists the features will be stored and encrypted locally on one's own hard drive, there's nothing stopping a bad actor who has gained access to a given PC from watching and saving everything a Recall user has done. As Ars points out, the privacy implications of this blow past being worried about one's porn browsing habits being watched and into safety issues, be it for journalists or political dissidents deemed enemies of the state or abused people who share their computers with their abusers.

In attempts to assuage some of those concerns, the company appears to have taken extra steps to keep Recall information locked down and private to users.

"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," the company wrote on its website. "Screenshots are only available to the person whose profile was used to sign in to the device."

This is not, as Ars adds, the first time Microsoft has tried this sort of thing, either.

Windows 10, for instance, included a feature called "Timeline," which allowed users to scroll through historic documents, browser tabs, and applications from both PCs and Android phones when toggling between tasks. Timeline, however, didn't take its snapshots spontaneously, and was discontinued in 2021.

Lucky for unwitting purchasers of Microsoft's AI-enabled Copilot+ PCs, Recall is still in beta testing, so it won't be unleashed on them anytime soon.

Nevertheless, it sets a scary precedent to introduce this kind of AI feature given that data privacy issues are too often overlooked in favor of the far-sexier prospect of AGI.

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