Microsoft backtracks on PC screenshot feature after outcry

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Microsoft is making changes to a controversial feature announced for its new range of PCs powered by artificial intelligence after it was flagged as a potential “privacy nightmare”.

The company billed the “Recall” feature for Copilot+ as a way to make users’ lives easier by capturing and storing screenshots of their desktop activity.

But after people claimed hackers might be able to misuse the tool and its saved screenshots, Microsoft is making the feature opt-in instead.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the UK’s data watchdog, had told the BBC it was “making enquiries” with Microsoft about the tool after concerns were raised.

“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,” said Pavan Davuluri, corporate vice president of Windows and devices, on Friday.

Mr Davuluri shared the update in a blog post.

The “Recall” tool featured prominently during the unveiling of Microsoft’s new PCs at its developer conference in May. The company is counting on artificial intelligence (AI) to drive demand for its devices.

Executive vice president Yusuf Medhi said during the event’s keynote speech that the feature used AI “to make it possible to access virtually anything you have ever seen on your PC” and likened it to having photographic memory.

The feature can search through a users’ past activity, including their files, photos, emails and browsing history.

While this is something lots of other devices do, the tool would also take screenshots every few seconds and search these too.

Microsoft said it “built privacy into Recall’s design” from the outset and users would have control over what was captured – such as by opting out of capturing certain websites or not capturing private browsing on Microsoft’s browser, Edge.

It said changes to the feature would give people a “clearer choice” to opt in to saving screenshots during set-up of the PCs, and would otherwise be turned off by default.

Users will also be required to use Windows’ “Hello” authentication process to enable the tool, and their “proof of presence” will be required if they want to view their timeline of saved activity or search through it in Recall.

The updates will be implemented before Copilot+ PCs launch on 18 June.

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