What is Recall on Windows 11 PCs?

Recall is a history and data-saving Windows 11 feature available on PCs powered with Copilot+. If you are wondering about it, we have answers.

Microsoft’s Copilot+ AI laptops offer several new Windows 11 features. One of the new Windows 11 features many wonder about Microsoft dubs “Recall.” Some hail it as a next-level feature for never losing content. On the other hand, some believe it’s a privacy concern and uses too many system resources—namely storage.

The basic premise of Recall is to keep your PC backed up regularly on your local drive. It takes snapshots of your system while working on it and makes it easy to recover missing data.

However, while Copilot+ AI computers are barely out of the gate, many in the privacy and security community are discovering problems. For instance, while recording everything you do, Recall doesn’t redact sensitive information like usernames, passwords, NSFW content, and other data.

In this guide, we’ll explain the Recall feature, whether it’s a privacy and security risk, and how to manage the required storage amount.

Microsoft Recall on Windows 11

Image courtesy: Microsoft

Can My PC Use the Recall Feature?

Probably not. Unless, that is, you purchase a new Copilot+ AI laptop with appropriate hardware requirements or an equivalent from another manufacturer.

The hardware requirements for the Recall feature to run on your PC are quite extensive. It requires a specific Neural Processing Unit (NPU), 16GB of RAM or higher, and 256GB of storage or more. For most, their PC doesn’t include an NPU—even if it’s a 1–2-year-old gaming rig.

For example, only new PCs in the Snapdragon ecosystem will come with appropriately powered NPUs. Existing PCs with NPUs installed won’t work with this functionality.

So, There’s No Way to Test Recall on Older PC?

Well, not exactly. Like most things on Windows, you can hack your way to gaining access to features even if your PC doesn’t officially support them. For instance, Windows enthusiast Albacore published the AmperageKit, which will enable recall on Arm-based PCs running Windows 11 Insider build 26100.712 on version 24H2 or above.

Still, that takes a lot of setup work and time and isn’t something an average user will want to do.

How Does Recall Work on Windows 11?

So, Recall takes screenshots using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to detect the data on your screen. Then, it writes the contents of open windows plus records of user interactions in a locally stored SQLite database to track your activity.

Windows stores the data on a per-app basis to allow the app-exclusion feature to work. Several days of your data stored in the database amount to about 90KB in size. Screenshots taken by Recall come in around 600KB each, and Recall saves the screenshots at your PC’s native resolution sans the taskbar.

Recall works locally with the Azure AI code running on your PC without internet connectivity (remember, no cloud storage). If you’ve encrypted your entire drive and you sign in with either your Microsoft account or a BitLocker-enabled local account, Windows encrypts the Recall data.

Where is My Recall Data Stored?

One thing that should give users solace is that Windows stores Recall data locally on your PC’s drive—not the cloud. In addition, Microsoft’s disk encryption technologies encrypts the data. The company notes that neither Microsoft nor other users on the PC can access Recall’s snapshots. Also, users can choose to exclude access to data like specific apps and individual websites.

So, What Are Security and Privacy Implications?

Security researcher Kevin Beaumont noted in a recent blog post on Medium that there are giant gaps in security and privacy regarding Recall. He notes that a user’s Recall database is easily accessible. In fact, local access to the system or injection with malicious code is all that’s required to easily access data and transfer the SQLite database to another system.

In addition, Windows doesn’t require admin access to read another user’s Recall database or Recall screenshots when clicking through the UAC prompt. The SQL database is stored in plain text and is not encrypted during transit. The screenshots are regular image files that can be opened and viewed by any image editor.

Another problem is that Recall is on by default, and you need to manually exclude apps and websites to prevent Recall from storing that data.

Can I Manage Recall?

First, we’ll return to an earlier comment in this article, which notes that only a handful of Windows 11 PCs will ship with Recall. You can also reduce the space allocation on your drive for the data it uses. Furthermore, you can turn the feature off entirely if you don’t want to use it. If you do use it, you can exclude websites and apps so that data isn’t stored in Recall.

Turn off Recall for website

Is Recall Safe to Use, and Can I Opt Out?

Well, that depends. What type of data is stored on your PC? Do you have the technical ability to turn off apps and sites that are scraped by Recall? Do you know how to turn it off if you don’t want to use it?

These are some basic questions to ask before deciding whether to use the new Recall feature on your new Copilot+-powered PC. You can opt out of using Recall, and for the time being, you’ll probably want to if you have sensitive data.

It’s also safe to say these initial results are preliminary, and Microsoft has time to enhance Recall’s security measures. As of this writing, the Recall feature doesn’t appear to be safe to use. So, we don’t recommend using it, at least not yet.

Microsoft and AI-Powered PCs

It’s no secret that Microsoft’s track record regarding privacy and security on Windows isn’t the best. However, it does get better over time, and these AI-driven PCs are first-gen devices, so our advice would be to steer clear of them for now.

Eventually, as technology progresses and updates are made, you can get a Copilot+ PC when you need to purchase a new one. Currently, there are still plenty of non-Copilot+ PCs out there.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Thomas Cost

    June 8, 2024 at 7:41 am

    I wish someone would come out with an operating system similar to the Windows System Platform for people like myself. I have been using Windows since it was MS-DOS I think it was in late 1985 or very early 1986. I’m 72 years old and it is to hard for me to learn Linux now. I have tried and tried. I just cannot wrap my head around it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


To Top