Rewind AI records everything on your Mac. Privacy nightmare or amazing memory tool?
- Rewind AI records everything you do on your Mac and makes it searchable.
- All data remains on your computer.
- The company has already removed one privacy-related feature.
A new app records “everything you’ve seen, said or heard” on your Mac and makes it searchable.
Rewind AI solves a major problem with modern computing: Where was that thing you just saw? Was the link sent via Slack, iMessage or email? Did you see it in Safari or Chrome? You’re sure someone mentioned something in a meeting, but did they say it out loud or was it a chat message? The goal of Rewind is to make everything you do on your computer searchable, but there’s a pretty big privacy and security concern: It records and stores everything you do.
“There is definitely a risk if you happen to get into legal trouble and the authorities can access your computer. Sometimes there are court orders to unlock devices and set passwords.” Ben Michael, an attorney at Michael and Associates, told Lifewire via email.
The concept is simple and uses modern technology to make something once impossible now possible. The app just constantly records the screen and computer audio. That part has been possible for a long time, but the gimmick here is that it uses various machine learning tricks to extract the text of this screen-captured video and transcribe all the audio, thus making it all searchable. Currently, the app only processes screenshots and captured text from OCR (optical character recognition).
Then it compresses what would fill gigabytes of data into mere megabytes, so you can keep a history of your activity and view it at any time. The technology is truly impressive, and because it only records your screen and audio, your apps don’t need to add any code or grant permission. It just works.
It’s a tempting feature because it’s so incredibly useful; you should never lose anything again. But Rewind’s strength is also its weakness: It remembers everything and makes it searchable. This includes your banking website, video meetings with people who don’t necessarily want to be recorded, your password management app, etc.
The app stores everything on your Mac, locally, but not in the cloud. You can also delete the parts you don’t want, exclude apps entirely, and choose not to record private browsing. If you read through the company’s website, especially the privacy FAQ section, you’ll see that the only data that leaves your computer is usage data and crash reports. Although these are enabled by default, you can disable them as well.
There are still two areas of concern. One is that you have to trust the app and the company behind it. Trust comes with experience and right now we have no experience with the company. And there has already been a privacy “rewind” since the app launched last week.
“When we launched two days ago, we shared that we use a cloud transcription service. That didn’t go over too well with some people (thanks @smagdali),” Rewind founder Dan Siroker said on Twitter. “Today we decided that we were going to completely ditch cloud transcription and ONLY do transcription locally on your Mac.”
For a product that is sure to attract a lot of privacy-based scrutiny, using a cloud service for transcription seems like an odd decision. And Rewind is VC-funded, which could lead to outside pressure in the future, especially since the app collects such a goldmine of data.
The second concern is more practical. Anyone with access to your Mac can see everything you’ve done. This could be a colleague checking your unlocked laptop while you’re having a coffee or a boss in a company using snoopware for employee surveillance.
But this isn’t really about Rewind, specifically. The problem will be the same for any app or service that can record your entire computer usage, and Rewind seems to be quick to respond to criticism.
Possibly the only way to create a life logging service like this is at the platform level. If Apple built a Rewind-like app into your Mac, you’re more likely to trust it. After all, you already trust the operating system with all your passwords, meetings, and post-lunch video viewing habits. But given privacy concerns, it seems unlikely that Apple would go anywhere near such an idea.
This is a shame because Rewind looks well designed and incredibly useful. The good thing is that it’s available now (currently invite-only), so you can decide for yourself if the trade-offs are worth it.
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