Recall on Windows 11: What Is this AI Feature and Is It Safe to Use?

In Short
  • Windows 11's new AI feature called Recall actively takes screenshots of your screen to create a local, encrypted semantic index of your activities.
  • You can later find things by natural language cues using Recall AI and interact with the content.
  • The feature has huge privacy implications despite all the privacy safeguards.

At the Surface event yesterday, Microsoft announced Copilot+ PCs including Surface Laptop 7 and Surface Pro 11, powered by the Snapdragon X series chipsets. The Redmond giant demoed many new AI features that will be part of Copilot+ PCs and will require a powerful NPU. Among them, Recall — internally called AI Explorer — is the next-gen AI feature Microsoft wants to push on Windows 11.

Recall is an AI feature that takes screenshots of your screen every few seconds and creates a photographic memory of your activity on the PC. Later, you can search for things using natural language prompts and further interact with the content from the past.

For example, if you searched for a brown leather bag on the web in the past, you can simply type “brown bag” in Recall and it will show you the exact timeline from the source app. Even if the captured screenshot didn’t have any textual description of the brown bag, Recall can still find the content by analyzing the image and using AI object detection.

Next, you can search for an email or bits from a meeting transcription using the Recall AI feature. For Recall to work, you must allocate at least 25GB of space which can store information for nearly three months.

What About Privacy?

While Recall may seem like a somewhat useful feature, I feel it’s quite invasive to actively take screenshots of the screen. Microsoft on its FAQ page says the screenshots are encrypted and saved on the device locally.

All of the AI processing happens locally using the integrated NPU and none of your personal data is sent to the cloud. Microsoft further says, “Your snapshots are yours; they stay locally on your PC.

windows recall AI feature
Image Courtesy: Microsoft

In addition, you can always pause or altogether stop the Recall AI feature. Next, you can filter apps and websites where Recall won’t take screenshots. And you can delete all of your snapshots or individual snapshots from the Settings menu. By the way, Recall is designed to not take screenshots of Incognito window (Private web browsing), and DRM content.

And it doesn’t do content moderation on captured screenshots which means it will not hide passwords or financial details. Currently, the Recall feature is in preview and Microsoft will keep adding improved controls and privacy features based on user feedback.

I am Not Comfortable Sharing My Screen For Recall

Despite all of the privacy safeguards and controls available to users, I am simply not comfortable sharing my screen with Recall. Especially when it unlocks a few use cases that I might not use at all. My primary concern with Recall is that it’s turned on by default. Most users may not even know that such a feature is already running on their PC. I think Microsoft must make it opt-in, by default.

Next, creating a semantic index, although encrypted locally, opens a new attack vector for malicious players. The semantic index includes contextual information about my files, emails, browsing activity, etc. which are highly sensitive in nature. Unknown vulnerabilities in the system may be exploited to gain access to sensitive data.

In information security, there is a well-established principle of not centralizing sensitive information and promoting data minimization. In case of data breach, it can lead to a single point of failure. I am personally not excited for the so-called groundbreaking Recall AI feature on Windows 11. The first thing I would do on a Copilot+ PC is to disable it right away.

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