Copilot+ PC downloads: a privacy time bomb?

Microsoft revealed earlier this week new Copilot+ computers, laptops with specific features such as a dedicated AI chip, at least 16GB of RAM and at least 256GB of storage. These computers, which will initially be powered by Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon X Elite chip, should rival Apple’s MacBooks in terms of performance and battery life, according to Microsoft.

These computers will also have dedicated AI features, of which the one that is undoubtedly attracting the most attention Appeal, which gives the computer a kind of photographic memory. Recall takes screenshots of everything you do on the web and in apps several times a minute. In this “computer memory” you can then search, for example, a chart you saw a few days ago to insert it into a presentation.

A privacy time bomb?

Microsoft says it designed this feature with its users’ privacy in mind. Thus, the screenshots are stored on the computer, not on the company’s servers, and all analysis of the screenshots using artificial intelligence is done on the device itself.

Microsoft also offers several options, such as the ability to pause recording and never record certain applications (which can be important for certain professional software, for example). By default, InPrivate content in Edge will not be saved either.

Despite the precautions, several voices have emerged since the feature was unveiled on Monday.

If I’m not mistaken, all the security experts who commented on this feature they are much less enthusiastic about this topic than Microsoft. Recall has been repeatedly called a “privacy nightmare” and several analysts (and Elon Musk) compared the feature to an episode of a dystopian series Black mirror. Even the British government is worried.

If compared with Black mirror is a little advanced, it is still clear that the new functionality poses a significant risk. Yes, the screenshots will be encrypted on your hard drive, but anyone who has access to your computer (a colleague who saw your password, a jealous spouse, or a hacker accessing your computer remotely) will have access to your entire usage history.

For the general public, IT security is generally a matter of compromise and common sense: how much risk am I willing to take for a useful feature I like?

Most agree that the benefits of keeping your photos online far outweigh the risks, for example. And for many people, the risk of a hacker spying on their front door through a smart doorbell is low and the consequences are not bad. It is therefore worthwhile for them to have a doorbell with a camera, because seeing who is at the door from a distance is an indisputable advantage.

With Recall, the math looks different. The risk is real, the consequences (professional, legal, personal, reputational, financial) can be dire, and the benefits have yet to be proven.

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