Sorry, Microsoft — I don’t want Copilot+ reading my DMs yet

Microsoft introducing the Recall feature in Windows 11.
Luke Larsen / Digital Trends

Microsoft is kicking off a new era of PCs — the Copilot+ era. It’s a new category of device designed and built around AI, and the key selling point of a Copilot+ PC is the new Recall feature. I’m not quite on board with it yet, however.

Recall is a collection of several small language models that run on your device all the time. These models track everything you do, from messages and emails you send to where you navigate within Windows 11. And, as the name suggests, Copilot can recall this information whenever you need it, using it as bedrock context for how you interact with your PC.

For showfloor demos and idealized interactions with your PC, Copilot+ sounds like the AI “superpower” that Microsoft has described it as. You can bring up that single sentence from a multipage document when typing an email later in the week, or you can recall that recipe you scrolled past, but forgot to save. Microsoft says: “Copilot+ PCs organize information like we do – based on relationships and associations unique to each of our individual experiences.”

It sounds great, but there’s an obvious privacy concern with Copilot+. It’s so obvious that Microsoft is already getting ahead of the conversation with multiple settings to control how Recall scans and stores your information. Even with the settings, I’m not ready to dive into the world of a Copilot+ PC.

Idealized usage

Microsoft showing how to use its Recall feature in Windows 11.
Luke Larsen / Digital Trends

I’m not saying I use my PC for any nefarious purposes, and I’m sure you don’t, either, but there are plenty of things I use my PC for that I’d rather not share widely. I’m sure you can think of a few examples yourself. It doesn’t matter if it’s Googling “is a canker sore herpes” or looking up how long you should stay on the toilet before calling your doctor, you’ve probably searched and browsed online for a multitude of dubious topics out of concern or pure curiosity. Throw in any messaging service — Microsoft used Discord as an example onstage — and the examples only multiply.

Of course, all of this browsing is being tracked by someone, somewhere already. And in defense of Copilot+, all of the tracking it does is local and private. “Recall leverages your personal semantic index, built and stored entirely on your device. Your snapshots are yours; they stay locally on your PC,” Microsoft’s blog post reads. The problem isn’t Microsoft snooping around. It even claims it won’t be using that data to train AI. But it’s feeding information into an AI that might throw it off balance.

A screenshot of Copilot's unhinged responses on a screen.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

It’s hard to forget the early days of Bing Chat, where a slight deviation in prompting could send the AI on a tirade. Even recently, specific inputs into Copilot (the rebranded version of Bing Chat) will send it down a dark rabbit hole. Feed a Copilot+ PC some strange information, even unintentionally, and it might spit out some strange results.

That’s not to say a Copilot+ PC will have problems, but this is still uncharted territory. The models are being fed a ton of information, and it’s hard to imagine this new ecosystem will be free of issues. If the AI decides that two unrelated topics are actually connected, it won’t be all that helpful.

There’s a stark difference between the idealized way you use your PC, the way that companies like Microsoft would like to show off in a keynote presentation or on a show floor, and how you actually use your PC. Especially in the early days of Copilot+ PCs, some wires are destined to get crossed in a way users (and maybe even Microsoft) don’t anticipate.

Getting ahead of the narrative

A Microsoft logo displayed at an event.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

In Microsoft’s defense, it recognizes that there’s a privacy issue with Copilot+, even if everything happens on your device. I’m glad to see that there’s some control over what the models can and can’t interact with, as I imagine that will be an essential issue for early adopters.

Microsoft says that Recall uses “snapshots” of your PC usage to provide context. Thankfully, you’re free to browse and delete these snapshots, as well as adjust the range of time that the models use the snapshots. You can also pause Recall in the System Tray for brief periods of time, as well as filter apps or websites from being tracked.

It’s great to have so many options, and I’m sure early adopters will take advantage of them generously. The user-facing options might not tell the full story, however. We’ve seen that previously with Microsoft. With Windows 10, for example, Microsoft starting tracking far more user data, which you could turn off in the settings. After the release of the operating system, however, PCWorld discovered that you could only disable some of the tracking, and not all of it.

None of the data for a Copilot+ PC is being sent to Microsoft, and the company says it won’t use that data to train AI models. Companies have been caught using unsuspecting users’ data to train AI models in the past, but Microsoft’s official stance now is that it won’t do that. Regardless, we still don’t know if there’s some amount of data that’s required for a Copilot+ PC, or if you really have as much control over the device as Microsoft suggests.

Uncharted territory

The Copilot key on the XPS 13.

There are a lot of details about Copilot+ PCs that are still up in the air and, normally, we’d see a deluge of reporting on what the devices are capable of — and where they fall short — in the days following an official announcement. This category of device is in a unique situation because it requires certain hardware.

A Copilot+ PC is a PC, meaning you’ll have to drop at least $1,000 (and likely more) to buy into this new era. This isn’t some beta feature you can access through your browser, nor is it a Windows update that will roll out over the course of a few weeks. It’s a new category of device, and that means it will likely take several weeks (or even months) before we know the ins and outs of how Copilot+ PCs work as journalists and users get their hands on devices.

I’m genuinely excited about what Copilot+ could mean for the future of PCs. These devices finally answer the main criticism of AI PCs up to this point by giving you a reason to have on-device AI. Still, I need a few more details on how Copilot+ actually works before I give up my DMs and Google searches to an AI model.