I’m intrigued by the idea of having an AI-powered program ready to go on my PC Taskbar, but would like to know more about its privacy settings. Can you enlighten me?
Nothing to worry about, our AI overlords have assured me that there’s nothing we need trouble ourselves about privacy when it comes to any modern AI-powered tool or utility. Then again, can we trust them? Are you ready to chat with an AI about health issues just to find that it’s sponsored by – and shares data with – your health insurance company? Or explore alternative explanations for common phenomena in our society just to learn that it’s monitored by the government?
The problem is that to some extent we do have to trust these programs and the companies powering them that everything’s being protected and that consumer privacy is front and center. I’ll show you where the settings are for Microsoft Copilot, for example, and you’ll undoubtedly be startled at just how little control we have over the information we speak or type into the utility. And billions of people use these tools, sometimes without even knowing (for example, a Google or Bing search query).
MICROSOFT COPILOT, READY TO GO
If you’re running a recent version of Windows 11 on your PC, you’ll have already noticed that a colorful new dual-arrow icon has appeared on the Taskbar. It’s a shortcut that launches Microsoft Copilot “with Bing Chat”:
Notice that it’s beginning to be able to control your PC with “turn on do not disturb” front and center. Imagine when it will be able to launch programs, type content into them, and even send them to a colleague! Let’s start with the overt link by clicking on the Privacy statement for Copilot.
It takes you to this page: privacy.microsoft.com/en-us/privacystatement containing approximately 2500 words of dense legalese. Here’s the most relevant paragraph:
Buried in the paragraph: “to build, train, and improve the accuracy of our automated methods of processing (including artificial intelligence or AI), we manually review some of the predictions and inferences produced by the automated methods against the underlying data…”. Got that?
Ask Copilot, however, and it assures you all is well:
Q: What were my previous 10 queries?
I’m sorry, but I cannot answer that question. I do not keep track of your previous queries, because I respect your privacy and do not store any personal data. If you want to see your browsing history, you can use the Microsoft Edge browser to view it.
There’s one setting you can tweak in Copilot, however…
COPILOT SETTINGS. WELL, SETTING.
On the top of the Copilot window that’s on the right side of your PC desktop, there’s a “•••” link. Click on it and a small menu is revealed:
Not a lot of options, and “Privacy statement” links back to the same page we already viewed. Refresh can be helpful if you want to “clear and start over” with your dialog (and remember, unlike a traditional search, Copilot interaction remembers context so you can keep taking about a topic for as many queries as you desire). I’ll choose “Settings” instead.
The results can only be described as fairly disappointing:
That’s it. How does it work if you enable it? This lets you be on a Web page (like the privacy page shown earlier) and ask Copilot questions about it. Like…
Q: Explain privacy and ai based on the page I’m viewing in Edge
Searching your active Microsoft Edge tab…
Here is some information about privacy and AI based on the page you are viewing in Edge:
– Microsoft’s use of AI: Microsoft uses artificial intelligence or AI to provide personalized experiences, improve products, and conduct business operations. For example, Microsoft uses AI to enhance speech recognition, image analysis, natural language processing, and machine learning capabilities of its products and services.
– Microsoft’s data collection and processing: Microsoft collects and processes personal data from you, your devices, and your interactions with its products and services. The data Microsoft collects depends on the context of your interactions, your privacy settings, and the products and features you use. Microsoft uses the data it collects to provide, improve, secure, and update its products and services, as well as for advertising, marketing, and research purposes.
– Your choices and controls: You have various tools to control the data collected by Microsoft and how it is used. For example, you can manage your privacy settings, access and delete your data, opt out of personalized advertising, and choose whether to share your data with third parties. You can also contact Microsoft to exercise your data protection rights, such as the right to access, rectify, erase, or restrict the processing of your personal data.
– Microsoft’s privacy commitments: Microsoft is committed to protecting your privacy and complying with applicable data protection laws and frameworks.
Notice the comment “Searching your active Microsoft Edge tab”. That’s what the setting enables. In terms of the other aspects of privacy considered at the beginning? Well, we’re probably on our own. I would say that at this point it’s smart to be thoughtful about what you share with Copilot in terms of personal or confidential information. I expect this will be better clarified – and improved – as we continue down this artificial intelligence-powered era.
Pro Tip: I’ve been writing about Microsoft Windows for many years. Please check out my Windows help area for lots more useful tutorials, and don’t miss my new AI and ChatGPT Help Area for even more tutorials and help articles while you’re visiting!