Microsoft Will Switch Off Recall by Default After Researchers Expose Security Flaws

When Microsoft named its new Windows feature Recall, the company intended the word to refer to a kind of perfect, AI-enabled memory for your device. Today, the other, unintended definition of “recall”—a company’s admission that a product is too dangerous or defective to be left on the market in its current form—seems more appropriate.

On Friday, Microsoft announced that it would be making multiple dramatic changes to its rollout of its Recall feature, making it an opt-in feature in the Copilot+ compatible versions of Windows where it had previously been turned on default, and introducing new security measures designed to better keep data encrypted and require authentication to access Recall’s stored data.

“We are updating the set-up experience of Copilot+ PCs to give people a clearer choice to opt-in to saving snapshots using Recall,” reads a blog post from Pavan Davuluri Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President, Windows + Devices. “If you don’t proactively choose to turn it on, it will be off by default.”

The changes come amidst a mounting barrage of criticism from the security and privacy community, which has described Recall—which silently stores a screenshot of the user’s activity every 5 seconds as fodder for AI analysis—as a gift to hackers: essentially unrequested, pre-installed spyware built into new Windows computers.

In the preview versions of Recall, that screenshot data, complete with the user’s every bank login, password, and porn site visit would have been indefinitely collected on the user’s machine by default. And though that highly sensitive is stored locally on the user’s machine and not uploaded to the cloud, cybersecurity experts have warned that it all remains accessible to any hacker who so much as gains a temporary foothold on a user’s Recall-enabled device, giving them a longterm panopticon view of the victim’s digital life.

“It makes your security very fragile,” as Dave Aitel, a former NSA hacker and founder of security firm Immunity, described it—more charitably than some others—to WIRED earlier this week. “Anyone who penetrates your computer for even a second can get your whole history. Which is not something people want.”

For Microsoft, the Recall rollback comes in the midst of an embarrassing string of cybersecurity incidents and breaches—including a leak of terabytes of its customers’ data and a shocking penetration of government email accounts enabled by a cascading series of Microsoft security slipups—that have grown so problematic as to become a sticking point even its uniquely close relationship with the US government.

Those scandals have escalated to the degree that Microsoft’s Nadella issued a memo just last month declaring that Microsoft would make security its first priority in any business decision. “If you’re faced with the tradeoff between security and another priority, your answer is clear: Do security,” Nadella’s memo read (emphasis his). “In some cases, this will mean prioritizing security above other things we do, such as releasing new features or providing ongoing support for legacy systems.”

By all appearances, Microsoft’s rollout of Recall—even after today’s announcement—displays the opposite approach, and one that seems more in line with business as usual in Redmond: Announce a feature, get pummeled for its glaring security failures, then belatedly scramble to control the damage.

This is a developing story. Check back for further updates.

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