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After Heavy Criticism of Windows Recall, Microsoft Changes Tack on the AI Tool

Microsoft has made the AI feature opt-in for Copilot PCs and pulled the related Windows release from its developer channel.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
4 min read
Microsoft Windows 11 Copilot

Microsoft announced Windows Recall on May 20, 2024, right before its Build developer conference.

Microsoft

After weeks of criticism from users and privacy advocates, Microsoft is changing direction on its release plans for the new artificial intelligence-powered automatic screenshotting feature called Windows Recall.

Microsoft said in a blog post on June 7 that its Recall feature, which was announced May 20, will be turned off by default when it launches on Copilot Plus PCs on June 18. Users who want to take advantage of the feature will have to choose to turn it on.

On the same day, Microsoft also quietly pulled its latest Windows preview release version 24H2 -- the only Windows update to include Recall -- from the Windows Insider Program. It's not clear yet if that will impact the expected official release of 24H2 in fall 2024.

Recall is designed to track all activity on a Windows computer through periodic screenshots, using an AI tool to "retrace your steps visually," making it easier to find previous opened apps, work and websites. 

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Microsoft had said the images are "encrypted, stored and analyzed locally," but privacy experts warned that other people who have physical access to a given computer could potentially access them.

"Our team is driven by a relentless desire to empower people through the transformative potential of AI and we see great utility in Recall and the problem it can solve," Microsoft Corporate Vice President for Windows and Devices Pavan Davuluri wrote on Friday. "For people to get the full value out of experiences like Recall, they have to trust it."

Read more: Microsoft's AI Recall Feature May Not Even Hit Your PC, but Here's How to Disable It

Microsoft's move to limit its Recall feature for Windows PCs marks the latest example of the balancing act companies are facing as they rush to integrate artificial intelligence technologies into their products. 

Microsoft in particular has placed itself under enormous pressure to integrate AI into many of its widely used products after its partnership with ChatGPT maker OpenAI helped raise its market capitalization on Wall Street above $3 trillion.

The Copilot Plus PC initiative is an important part of Microsoft's AI efforts. The company said a key feature of Copilot Plus PCs will be their ability to perform AI tasks using specialized neural processing units, or NPU chips, that help power features like better photo editing; live transcription and translation for video and audio; and Recall. 

Microsoft dramatized its AI efforts even further when it announced earlier this year that it was adding a Copilot AI key to its standard Windows keyboard layout, the first change since adding the Windows start key three decades ago. 

In the Friday blog post, Microsoft said that if users choose to turn Recall on for their devices, it'll have increased security features. Microsoft said it will require biometric "Windows Hello" security in order to enable Recall, and that the feature will need to determine your presence in order to view Recall data. The company also said it will have additional authentication features to protect user data.

"As we always do, we will continue to listen to and learn from our customers, including consumers, developers and enterprises, to evolve our experiences in ways that are meaningful to them," Microsoft's Davuluri wrote. "We will continue to build these new capabilities and experiences for our customers by prioritizing privacy, safety and security first."

AI stumbles

Microsoft isn't the only company that's faced criticism over how it's added AI to its products. 

In May, OpenAI disabled one of the voices for its ChatGPT AI after actor Scarlett Johansson accused the company of designing its technology to sound "eerily similar" to an AI character she voiced in the 2013 sci-fi film Her. 

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A week after OpenAI apologized and suspended its soundalike voice, Google pumped the brakes on a new AI Overview feature for its namesake search product after the technology sincerely repeated a racist conspiracy theory about former US President Barack Obama while telling other users to add glue to pizza and to eat rocks as part of a healthy diet. 

Despite these high-profile embarrassments, companies and governments are continuing to add AI to their products and services. Apple is expected to announce AI revamps for its iPhones, iPads and Mac computers during its Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday, June 10. The latest rumors, reported by Bloomberg, suggest that Apple will also make its AI features opt-in, allowing users to choose to turn them on rather than enabling them by default.

For hands-on CNET reviews of generative AI products including Gemini, Claude, ChatGPT and Microsoft Copilot, along with AI news, tips and explainers, see our AI Atlas resource page.

Read more: AI Atlas, Your Guide to Today's Artificial Intelligence

Editors' note: CNET used an AI engine to help create several dozen stories, which are labeled accordingly. The note you're reading is attached to articles that deal substantively with the topic of AI but are created entirely by our expert editors and writers. For more, see our AI policy.