The Recall function of Windows 11, a nightmare for privacy?

First of all, it is important to remember what Recall. This new function aims to profoundly transform the way in which we carry out a search under Windows 11 and above all, how the operating system find what the user is looking for. No longer need to remember the name of the lost file, all you need to do is enter a keyword (a term present in the file, for example) or the description of an object in the search field.

Microsoft has a lot to prove

Recall will then display a timeline grouping past actions relating to the request. All you have to do is “scroll” the timeline to get your hands on the document or information you are looking for. The feature actually relies on character recognition (OCR) to analyze screenshots. A video is worth a thousand words, so here’s what this feature looks like:

It is the operation of Recall which raises questions. Windows 11 will take “snapshots” (screenshots) at regular intervals of what is happening on the PC: the apps used, the websites visited, and even the characters entered. Microsoft has obviously put in place safeguards: Recall information is encrypted and kept locally, and it is possible to exclude apps and websites from recording. There will also be no recording when the browser is in private mode.

Read Windows 11: with Recall, Microsoft will record all your activities on your PC

But when you start digging, Recall’s limitations begin to appear. Thus, the “blacklist” of websites only concerns Edge; other Chromium browsers will only block recording during private browsing. Recall will remember all manipulations and web surfing from any other browser (see this Microsoft support sheet).

In the United Kingdom, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the English equivalent of the Cnil, is officially concerned about Recall. The institution requested information from Microsoft to “ understand the safeguards put in place to protect user privacy “. And the ICO reminds that the industry must take data protection into account “ from the outset and rigorously assess the risks to people’s rights and freedoms before marketing products “.

Beyond that, a good part of the community of security and confidentiality experts stood up as one man, such as Abeba Birhane, AI researcher and Mozilla fellow, who attacks: “ This is called constant surveillance, tracking, and will eventually be used to influence and control the masses. “. Not to mention that vigorously siphoning the data stored by Recall would give hackers full and complete access to the lives of their victims.

Register a website in the Recall “blacklist”. ©Microsoft

Microsoft therefore has a lot of work to do to convince people of the safety of this function, announced a few days after the company’s firm commitment to “put security above all else”. Recent history has shown that this is not necessarily the case, and in this area the company has a lot to prove and make amends.

Added to this is the bad reputation of generative AI, whose “intelligence” is based on the analysis of as much data as possible, the provenance of which is sometimes doubtful. OpenAI, Microsoft’s first partner, contributed to this murky image which arouses legitimate mistrust among users.

However, it should be remembered that Recall will only really be available on a handful of computers to begin with (the famous Copilot+PC). Recall snapshots can also be deleted at any time, it will be possible to deactivate the saving of captures. Finally, the function will be optional.

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