Microsoft pinches one of the best macOS features for Windows 11 – here are three other ideas it should steal from Apple

It looks like Windows 11 could be getting a new device management feature that will seem a bit familiar to anyone who has ever used Apple’s rival macOS Sonoma operating system for Macs and MacBooks.

As MSPoweruser reports, an early build of an upcoming Windows 11 update adds a new ‘Linked devices’ window within the Settings app, giving users an overview of all the devices, such as laptops and Xbox consoles, that are signed into their Microsoft account.

From that window, it looks like users will then be able to manage each device from a single screen.

Apple-like convenience

You may be surprised how many devices you’ve linked to your Microsoft account, especially if you have several laptops. Signing in to your smartphone and connecting it to your Windows 11 device via the handy Phone Link app and using your Microsoft account to sign up to other services could also mean your ‘Linked devices’ list is actually longer than you might have expected.

It's always important to keep track of the devices you sign into – especially if you are planning on selling or giving away a device. Currently, there’s no easy way to see all the devices signed into your Microsoft account in Windows 11 – instead you need to go to the Microsoft account website. It’s not the most intuitive website, and having this information displayed in a much clearer way within Windows 11 is a good move in my view. However, as MSPoweruser points out, at the moment some tasks you want to perform with the devices will still need to be done through the website.

It's (very) early days with this feature, however, as it is currently only available with the beta build 22635.3495, which is only available to people signed up to the Windows 11 Insiders program. By the time this feature rolls out to all Windows 11 users, more tasks should hopefully be integrated directly into Windows, rather than having to go to the website.

This addition adds a level of Apple-like convenience to Windows 11 – something the operating system often lacks. As I’ve said many times before, Windows 11 can sometimes feel like a jumbled mess of new and legacy operating systems – and that means it fails to offer a coherent experience.

Meanwhile, Apple’s macOS certainly isn’t perfect, but it does integrate your various devices much better than Windows 11. Of course, Apple being Apple, this works best if all your other devices are Apple products as well, and due to the huge range of manufacturers who make Windows 11 products, Microsoft hasn’t got this luxury.

This new feature, however, is certainly welcome and brings Windows 11 a step closer to the kind of easy device management that Apple is known for. If Microsoft has indeed taken inspiration from its archnemesis, then I’m certainly not complaining. In fact, here are some other Apple features I wouldn’t mind Microsoft copying:

1. Make the Start menu more like the Launchpad

Windows 11 Start menu

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Now, a few years ago the idea that I might one day suggest that Microsoft change the iconic Windows Start menu to be more like the Launchpad of macOS would have been laughable. Since its debut in Windows 95, I’ve always preferred the start menu – it was easy to find the app you wanted to launch, and it confined to the bottom-left-hand corner of the screen, it didn’t feel intrusive, unlike the full-screen Launchpad.

In fact, when Microsoft dropped the Start menu in Windows 8 for a much more Launchpad-like fullscreen Start screen, I – like many other Windows users – was horrified.

However, while the Start menu has returned in Windows 10 and Windows 11, Microsoft has seemingly done its hardest to make me avoid the once-essential part of the operating system.

Stuffing apps and widgets that I don’t want or use into the Start menu makes it harder to find what I actually want – and it looks like it’s set to get worse as Microsoft is apparently considering putting adverts for suggested Microsoft Store apps into the ‘Recommended’ section of the Start menu.

macOS launchpad

(Image credit: Apple)

More unnecessary bloat means it’s harder to find the apps I actually want to use, and ironically it means I open up the Start menu less and less these days. The fact that in Windows 11 the Start menu now pops up right in the middle of my desktop means it can feel just as obnoxious as Launchpad (unless I change the settings to put the Start menu back in the left-hand corner).

It’s got to the point where I prefer using Launchpad. Sure, I still don’t like that it takes over my entire screen, but there are no adverts, notifications to try more services, and few pre-installed apps in there. Instead, it just shows me the apps I have installed, letting me find and open them up quickly.

2. Make the Taskbar more like the Dock

Windows 11 2022 Update taskbar

(Image credit: Sofia Wyciślik-Wilson)

This is another suggestion I can hardly believe I’m making in 2024, but the sad fact is that despite the macOS Dock coming after the Windows Taskbar set the… er… bar… Microsoft’s tinkering has ended up making Windows 11’s version of the Taskbar a lot less useful.

At first glance, the centering of the app icons suggests that Microsoft has already taken inspiration from the macOS Dock – but if that’s the case, then it’s learned the wrong lesson.

The macOS Dock is a more elegant solution to quickly opening up your favorite apps, while also switching between open windows – but not because it sits at the centre of your screen. As with the Launchpad, the Dock is mercifully free from clutter, while the Taskbar can look cluttered by comparison.

By default, as well as icons for your apps, the Windows 11 Taskbar also shows the Search bar (which often features graphics), weather warning, notifications, and the new Copilot icon, many of which I never use.

macOS sonoma

(Image credit: Future)

Also, while the Dock sits in the center of the screen, the Taskbar stretches across the entire screen, and while the app icons and Start menu appear in the center, the weather icons appear on the far left, while notifications, time and date, Copilot and volume controls are shoved to opposite side. This means the Taskbar in Windows 11 feels cluttered, whilst also having lots of wasted space.

Worst of all, Microsoft has dropped a lot of functionality from the Windows 11 Taskbar compared to previous versions of Windows – including the ability to drag and drop apps onto the Taskbar to pin them so they always appear there, or to drag and drop files onto an app’s Taskbar icon to open up the file in the app.

It’s a curious move that has perplexed a lot of Windows 11 users, and I would like Microsoft to take inspiration from both macOS and past versions of Windows to create a modern Taskbar that’s elegant, powerful, and simple to use.

3. Make Microsoft Store more like the App Store (that is, make it more useful)

Microsoft Store

(Image credit: Microsoft)

This last point is probably one that Microsoft would love, but ever since the introduction of the Windows Store with Windows 8, the company has struggled to make a case for what is now called the Microsoft Store.

Much like the App Store in macOS, the Microsoft Store offers a way to find and install apps. It should be easy and safe (as all apps in the store are tested to ensure they don’t include malware) – yet while the App Store in macOS feels like a useful, maybe even essential, part of the operating system, the Microsoft Store is easily ignored.

Microsoft must look at the money Apple rakes in through the App Store with seething jealousy. So what can Microsoft learn from Apple’s implementation?

For a start, the App Store looks cleaner and feels more curated. The Microsoft Store certainly looks better than in the past, but it’s still not the easiest when it comes to finding things you want (there’s a bit of a theme developing here). It also feels slow and laggy compared to the App Store.

App Store data collection

(Image credit: Apple)

Microsoft has also struggled to get developers to make bespoke versions of their applications for the Microsoft Store, which means it feels a bit sparser than the App Store. It also means that some versions of apps downloaded from the Microsoft Store lack the features of the same app downloaded from a website. It also leads to strange inconsistencies, such as the Paint.net app being a paid-for app in the Microsoft Store – but it’s free to download from the official website.

Probably the biggest problem for Microsoft when it comes to this is that the App Store has been such an integral part of macOS for so long that users think nothing of using it to install new apps. They will also trust Apple’s recommendations for new apps.

Microsoft doesn’t have that kind of reverence from its users, and Windows users have mainly grown up with using the internet to find and download applications, preferring the freedom of picking where to download the app from, and where to install it – even if it brings certain risks.

It’s hard to see how Microsoft can change a lot of that, but by making the Microsoft Store more useful, easier to navigate and with a much wider app selection, it could help make it more popular with its customers.

Apple – and macOS – is far from perfect, and there are lots of things that Windows 11 does better than macOS, but if Microsoft is in the mood for taking tips from its fruit-themed competitor, the above suggestions would be very welcome indeed.

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OpenAI’s new voice synthesizer can copy your voice from just 15 seconds of audio

OpenAI has been rapidly developing its ChatGPT generative AI chatbot and Sora AI video creator over the last year, and it's now got a new artificial intelligence tool to show off: Voice Generation, which can create synthetic voices from just 15 seconds of audio.

In a blog post (via The Verge), OpenAI says it's been running “a small-scale preview” of Voice Engine, which has been in development since late 2022. It's actually already being used in the Read Aloud feature in the ChatGPT app, which (as the name suggests) reads out answers to you.

Once you've trained the voice from a 15-second sample, you can then get it to read out any text you like, in an “emotive and realistic” way. OpenAI says it could be used for educational purposes, for translating podcasts into new languages, for reaching remote communities, and for supporting people who are non-verbal.

This isn't something everyone can use right now, but you can go and listen to the samples created by Voice Engine. The clips OpenAI has published sound pretty impressive, though there is a slight robotic and stilted edge to them.

Safety first

ChatGPT Android app

Voice Engine is already used in ChatGPT’s Read Aloud feature (Image credit: OpenAI)

Worries about misuse are the main reason Voice Engine is only in a limited preview for now: OpenAI says it wants to do more research into how it can protect tools like this from being used to spread misinformation and copy voices without consent.

“We hope to start a dialogue on the responsible deployment of synthetic voices, and how society can adapt to these new capabilities,” says OpenAI. “Based on these conversations and the results of these small scale tests, we will make a more informed decision about whether and how to deploy this technology at scale.”

With major elections due in both the US and UK this year, and generative AI tools getting more advanced all the time, it's a concern across every type of AI content – audio, text, and video – and it's getting increasingly difficult to know what to trust.

As OpenAI itself points out, this has the potential to cause problems with voice authentication measures, and scams where you might not know who you're talking to over the phone, or who's left you a voicemail. These aren't easy issues to solve – but we're going to have to find ways to deal with them.

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Microsoft’s Notepad goes from a simple text editor to a mini-Word thanks to spell check and autocorrect – but could it lose its charm?

The once-unloved Microsoft Notepad app continues to get new features, with spell check and autocorrect reportedly coming to the Windows staple next. Originally debuting as a heavily stripped-down version of Microsoft Word, Notepad is now beginning to resemble Word more and more with each successive update. 

This latest Notepad update is currently only available in Windows 11 Preview Build 26085, which you can get through the Windows Insider Program, Microsoft’s community for professionals and Windows enthusiasts to try out new Windows versions and features before they’re released to the wider user base.

According to MSPowerUser, the upgraded Notepad app (version 11.2402.18.0) is available in both the Dev and Canary release channels of the Windows Insider Program. Apparently, the update will also allow users to customize how these new features are used. This is good news, as Notepad is widely known as a simple text editor, and I’m sure many users will prefer to keep it that way.

Windows Insider @PhantomOfEarth shared the Notepad upgrade on X (formerly Twitter), where he noted that the features are currently being tested by Microsoft ahead of a wider rollout. He also shared a screenshot of what Notepad’s settings page will look like and some of the new settings that users will be able to adjust (specifically, being able to turn autocorrect and spell check on and off).

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While not seen in this screenshot, MSPowerUser claims that additional settings will allow users to tailor their feature preferences even further by selecting which file types the new features apply to. It also reports that beyond Notepad, Microsoft is experimenting with new sections in the Windows 11 settings menu and new user interface (UI) animations that will be included in this Windows preview build.

Early user reception of the new Notepad

The introduction of spell check and autocorrect into Notepad follows the recent introduction of Cowriter, an artificial assistant (AI) writing assistant, which was seen in a previous preview build.

Cowriter didn’t get the warmest user response, as again, Notepad is Windows’ staple ‘simple text app’, and many users aren’t interested in additional bells and whistles. It’s also a pretty overt attempt by Microsoft to carry out its promise to inject AI into as much of the user experience in Windows as possible, which has rubbed some users the wrong way. 

It does seem that Microsoft may have taken note of this backlash in its attempts to try and flesh out Notepad further, with it giving the users options in settings to turn the new features on and off, and tailor what file types they apply to. I think this is wise and Microsoft would do well to keep this behavior up, especially if it insists on changing and removing apps that users love and have gotten used to over decades.  After all, Microsoft killed off WordPad just a few months ago – but that doesn’t mean we all want Notepad to simply replace it. Sometimes, simplicity is better. 

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Waze could tempt you from Google Maps with these super-useful driving alerts

Waze will receive a nice quality-of-life update that’ll help you drive around more safely as well as let you know of any recent changes to the road.

The patch is slated to be released on Android and iOS devices across the globe, but the rollout won’t happen all at once. Instead, the six features will come out in pieces throughout the coming months. It’s a little complicated, but once you break the announcement down, it all makes sense.

When it comes to safety, the app will notify you in advance of any emergency vehicles on your route. That way you’ll know when to shift lanes or take a detour. This tool is currently making its way to users living in the US, Canada, Mexico, and France, with, Waze promises, more countries coming soon.

Waze's new speed limit and emergency vehicle alerts

(Image credit: Waze/Google)

Our favorite update out of the bunch has to be Waze deciding it'll shout out upcoming changes to speed limits in case they’re about to suddenly decrease. It's a pretty helpful tool whenever you want to avoid getting caught in a speed trap. Third, the developers are expanding hazard detection to include speed bumps, sharp turns, and toll booths. The speed limit warnings as well as the hazard detection upgrade are currently rolling out to all users. 

This next set of features is scheduled to launch down the line.

Normally, whenever someone opens a navigation app, it’s because they want to get to their destination ASAP. Well, later this month, you’ll be given the option to take more scenic routes. They may not be the fastest way to get home, but at least, you'll have the opportunity to take your favored path instead.

Most drivers can agree that finding a place to park in a city can be an utter nightmare. To make finding the sweet spot less stressful, Waze is teaming up with software company Flash to provide information on parking garages. The app will tell you how much it costs to park at a location, whether it’s covered or open to the elements, if there’s a valet, and more. 

The announcement states the new data feed is seeing a limited release. It will provide info on a select group of 30,000 parking garages across major cities in the United States and Canada.

Waze's new parking garage feed and alternative routes tool

(Image credit: Google/Waze)

The last feature will teach people how to navigate a roundabout. Waze states they’ll point out when to enter, when to switch lanes, and “where to exit”. Android users will receive the roundabout tool later this month, however, iPhone owners will have to wait until later in the year to get the same upgrade.

We reached out to Google, which is Waze’s parent company, asking if there are plans for future expansions and if it’s going to add the same features to the app’s web page. This story will be updated at a later time.

Waze's latest patch looks like it'll keep a lot of people safe, but accidents happen all the time. To keep your insurance rates from skyrocketing, check out TechRadar's list of the best dash cams for 2024. You never know when you'll need one.

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Say goodbye to the recent Blue Screen of Death drama in your life with these new fixes from Intel

If you’ve recently been confronted by the fearsome Blue Screen of Death (also known as BSOD… yes, it’s got its own acronym) when using Windows 11, Intel might have pinpointed the cause and is offering a fix. According to Intel, the recent BSOD is likely caused by a faulty Wi-Fi driver, for which it’s released an update that should resolve this. It’s also released an update for Bluetooth, version 23.30, that should bring additional stability. 

Intel WLAN driver version 23.30 is Intel’s February 2024 Wi-Fi update that should stop Windows 11 from crashing and showing the BSOD. This update addresses more than just the crashing issue in Windows 11, as detailed in Intel’s full release notes for the update. Other improvements include an improved Quality of Service (QoS) which will help devices prioritize internet traffic better, and Windows Latest explains that this could improve the overall internet performance of a device connected to a router used by multiple devices. Intel has also made changes that should improve network latency, which is good news for those who like to play games online.

Since installing the initial driver update, users have been reporting issues like Windows System Event ID 5002 errors have been a common occurrence. Other issues included problems with finding Wi-Fi networks and connecting to monitors using the wireless Miracast function. 

Windows 11 Update showing on laptop in an office

(Image credit: TechRadar)

How and when you can expect these updates

If you have a suitable Windows 11 device with Intel Wi-Fi and Bluetooth components, you can expect these updates to land in your device’s Windows Update app. If for whatever reason you do not see these or you want to speed up the process (given they’ve not been installed already), you can use the Intel Driver and Support Assistant (iDSA) to download and install them. You can do this by going to Intel’s website and downloading the installation file for the iDSA, and opening up the app once installed. Get the app to check for updates, and if they’re available for your device, they should show up. If you have issues with the updates once they’re installed, you should be able to revert to older versions using the Device Manager app.

If you’re having other issues with your Windows 11 device, Intel-based or not, you can download and install the Windows 11 February 2024 optional update. This version comes with a host of updates and fixes and should also deliver a boost in performance. These are set to be installed automatically with Microsoft’s Windows 11 Moment 5 updates but are available to try in this optional update. Fixes for connectivity and Wi-Fi issues are always good news, so this is a welcome development from Intel, and I would always recommend installing updates that are available both for improved functionality and the most up-to-date security improvements.

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Nvidia’s GeForce Now’s free tier will soon show you up to two minutes of ads while you wait to play – proving nowhere is safe from commercials

Nvidia’s free tier of GeForce Now, its cloud gaming service, will soon run up to two minutes of ads before you play, according to Nvidia spokesperson Stephanie Ngo.

GeForce Now is a service offered by Nvidia that allows you to connect to digital PC game stores and stream games you already own across a multitude of different devices – including Macs, Windows laptops, iPhones and iPads, Android phones, and more.

It offers three membership tiers, with the free membership offering a queue system with an hour-long gaming session length that will then bring you back to the start of the queue once your time is up. It’s in this waiting time that the ads will be shown, so while it could be a little annoying, your actual gameplay time won’t be interrupted. 

The ads will help pay for the free tier service and keep it free, with Ngo adding that the change is also expected to reduce wait times for free users in the long run – though it’s not entirely clear at this point how that’s going to work. Perhaps Nvidia is expecting the arrival of ads to push users to pay for the premium tiers or simply drive some users away from the platform entirely – either would, in theory, help reduce queues for the free tier.  GeForce Now users should expect an email on 27 Feb to let them know about the changes. 

 Major inconvenience or just … meh?  

I’m not a user of Nvidia’s game-streaming service myself, but I reached out to GeForce Now Members within the TechRadar team and learned that wait times currently fluctuate between five to fifteen minutes – and scrolling through the GeForce Now subreddit proves that wait times can go on even longer. 

Most people who use the free tier of GeForce Now go in aware that they will be spending a not-insignificant amount of time in a queue, so in reality, two minutes of ads when you know you’re likely going to be waiting for longer anyway isn’t much of an inconvenience – it might even help kill some time. Many users are likely to simply do something else while queuing for their free hour timeslot anyway, so why shouldn’t Nvidia get some extra ad revenue from it?

That being said, it is a gloomy example of the inescapable modern torture of being advertised at non-stop. Almost every facet of the internet is packed with ads at this point (this article included – sorry about that, but we’ve got to eat!) and while a lot of platforms offer ad-free paid tiers, it seems like that isn’t enough anymore. 

Amazon Prime has received a lot of (well-deserved) flak for slapping ads onto paid memberships, and Netflix’s ad-supported free tier wasn’t very well-received either. While Nvidia’s latest move seems fairly innocuous right now, who’s to say the ‘up to two minutes’ won’t extend further in the future, until you’re sat watching a full ten minutes of commercials to play an hour-long session of your current favorite game? Do you just give in and buy a paid membership? I just might, personally – but I wouldn’t be happy about it.

Via The Verge 

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Your Fitbit app can now show stats from other wearables and services

As part of a recent Android feature drop, the Fitbit app will now show data from third-party sources to provide users with a “more complete picture of [their] health”.

Google stated in a recent announcement it’s effectively expanding Health Connect’s reach, allowing it to grab stats “from your favorite wearables and apps”. These sources include AllTrials, the Oura Ring, plus nutritional data from MyFitnessPal. Over in the Today tab on the Fitbit app, you will see a new section called Records where you will see all the Health Connect info listed out in detail. 

Looking at the demo video, there are entries for calories burned in a day, distance traveled, floors climbed, and body measurements among other things. Tapping an entry will take you to a stat readout. For example, going to “Steps” will show you how many steps you’ve taken in a day, week, month, and year with a daily average number on the side. 

Data coming from a third-party source will have the service’s logo right next to it. The aforementioned Steps section has a symbol of an Oura Ring next to it while Elevation Gained has the AllTrials icon alongside it. It’s important to mention that there may be a discrepancy in the information shown. 9To5Google explains in its coverage “data in Health Connect may not match the metrics you see on your Fitbit devices.”

Android feature drop

The update is currently rolling out alongside the eight other features. Just to briefly go over them, you have WearOS smartwatches receiving public transit directions via Google Maps plus support for Google Wallet passes. Google Messages will soon host the company’s Gemini chatbot so you can have direct conversations with the AI. And the Android home screen will gain an output switcher for Spotify giving subscribers the ability to change where their media is playing. You’ll be able to seamlessly hop between a smartphone, a pair of headphones, or a smart TV. 

We reached out to Google asking if the only third-party sources Health Connect has access to are All Trials, an Oura Ring, and MyFitnessPal or if there are more. This story will be updated at a later time.

In the meantime, check out TechRadar's list of the best Fitbit trackers for 2024.

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This upcoming feature on Google Keep may finally sway me away from Apple Notes for good

Google Keep is a popular task management and note-taking tool integrated with Google Suite so you can create and tick off to-do lists as you work on your computer or phone. The mobile version of Google Keep could be about to get a new feature that may tempt people away from their other note-taking apps – lock screen access to your notes.

According to 9to5Google, the team behind Google Keep has been pushing to become the default note-taking app on Android devices. In the same way, Apple Notes is the default note-taking app on every iPhone, iPad, and Mac. If Google Keep does become the de facto note-taking app of choice on Android devices, this opens the door to the app having more features that can be integrated more intimately into your phone. 

Alongside lock screen access to recent notes, we could also see improved stylus support so you can jot down your thoughts quickly and do fun doodles with a bit more control of your strokes. In version 5.24 of the app, there’s a new section of the settings menu that lists the lock screen access as ‘coming soon’, which gives me hope that we’ll see the feature sooner rather than later. 

I have no memory, I need lock screen access, please

As an extremely forgetful person who needs to make lists for everything, I am so excited about the possibility of being able to look at my lock screen and see all my important to-dos at a glance, especially if the feature becomes available to non-Android users too. 

You can have shopping lists, reminders, positive affirmations, and reflections all on your lock screen and tick them off as you go through them without even needing to unlock your phone. I currently use Google Keep on my work computer exclusively to tick things off as I go through the day. If I can have my professional to-do list not just on a mobile app but very visible on my lock screen, I can keep tabs on what needs to be done while on my commute to work, and jot down tasks to carry over to the next day on the way back home. 

Apple Notes has been my default note-taking app mostly because I’m an iPhone user, and while it has had a few improvements here and there (like adding grids, text formatting options, and being able to drop in photos into the app) it’s ultimately nothing special in the world of note-taking apps. If Google Keep can implement lock screen access outside of just Android phones, you’d better believe I’m shifting all my shopping list reminders over immediately and saying goodbye to Apple Notes for good. 

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WhatsApp working on a way to stop users from screenshotting your profile pic

Meta may be releasing yet another layer of privacy protection to WhatsApp that will prevent people from taking screenshots of your profile photo on the service.

This upcoming feature was discovered in the most recent WhatsApp beta on Android by WABetaInfo. It'll be housed within the Privacy section of the Settings menu, according to tomsguide.  Having access to the blocking tool, they attempted to take a screenshot of a profile picture however they were prevented from doing so. The publication was met with a notification at the bottom of the screen stating they couldn’t take a screenshot “due to app restrictions”. 

As explained in the report, WhatApp introduced the option to stop users from saving “others’ profile photos” about five years ago. It was supposed to prevent bad actors from sharing images without the owner’s consent; however, screenshotting completely bypasses this. WABetaInfo argues that directly blocking the ability to screenshot allows WhatsApp to further reinforce “the concept of user privacy and consent” on its service. It seemingly doesn’t want said bad actors to utilize people’s photographs for scams, impersonations, or harassment.

Analysis: A small, yet important issue

Now you may be wondering, “Is taking unauthorized screenshots of a WhatsApp profile picture really that big of an issue?” 

Well, based on the brief research we did, it seems screenshotting profile photos isn’t a major problem plaguing the user base, but it is an anxiety held by a small group. We’ve seen multiple posts on Reddit of people voicing their concern over this issue. Someone on the Privacy subreddit even asked if it was possible to find out who screenshotted their WhatApp profile pic.

We also found an interesting post on Medium by writer Bilge Tekin who proposed the concept of a Screenshot Restriction feature for WhatsApp back in 2021. Tekin’s idea took it a step further by preventing screenshotting in chat rooms. When he had people try out his idea, it seemed the testers liked having the option to restrict others from sharing private conversations. 

Granted, none of these examples come from a Meta-financed scientific study or an official poll. There haven't been any large-scale studies delving into this phenomenon as far as we can tell. But at the very least, it could give WhatsApp an edge over rivals by appealing to this niche subset of the user base. Neither Telegram nor Signal have a feature like this. Plus, having the option doesn't hurt.

If you’re interested in trying out the new tool, you’ll first need to join the Google Program Beta Program and then install the beta version of WhatsApp. The blocking update may not be available to you as only a select group currently has access, but WABetaInfo states it will be rolling out to more users over the coming weeks.

While we have you, be sure to join TechRadar’s own WhatsApp channel to get our latest reviews right on your phone.

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From chatterbox to archive: Google’s Gemini chatbot will hold on to your conversations for years

If you were thinking of sharing your deepest, darkest secrets with Google's freshly-rebranded family of generative AI apps, Gemini, just keep in mind that someone else might also see them. Google has made this explicitly clear in a lengthy Gemini support document where it elaborates on its data collection practices for Gemini chatbot apps across platforms like Android and iOS, as well as directly in-browser.

Google explained that it’s standard practice for human annotators to read, label, and process conversations that users have with Gemini. This information and data are used to improve Gemini to make it perform better in future conversations with users. It does clarify that conversations are “disconnected” from specific Google accounts before being seen by reviewers, but also that they’re stored for up to three years, with “related data” like user devices and languages as well as location. According to TechCrunch, Google doesn’t make it clear if these are in-house annotators or outsourced from elsewhere. 

If you’re feeling some discomfort about relinquishing this sort of data to be able to use Gemini, Google will give users some control over how and which Gemini-related data is retained. You can turn off Gemini App Activity in the My Activity dashboard (which is turned on by default). Turning off this setting will stop Gemini from saving conversations in the long term, starting when you disable this setting. 

However, even if you do this, Google will save conversations associated with your account for up to 72 hours. You can also go in and delete individual prompts and conversations in the Gemini Apps Activity screen (although again, it’s unclear if this fully scrubs them from Google's records). 

A direct warning that's worth heeding

Google puts the following in bold for this reason – your conversations with Gemini are not just your own:

Please don’t enter confidential information in your conversations or any data you wouldn’t want a reviewer to see or Google to use to improve our products, services, and machine-learning technologies.

Google’s AI policies regarding data collection and retention are in line with its AI competitors like OpenAI. OpenAI’s policy for the standard, free tier of ChatGPT is to save all conversations for 30 days unless a user is subscribed to the enterprise-tier plan and chooses a custom data retention policy.

Google and its competitors are navigating what is one of the most contentious aspects of generative AI – the issues raised and the necessity of user data that comes with the nature of developing and training AI models. So far, it’s been something of a Wild West when it comes to the ethics, morals, and legality of AI. 

That said, some governments and regulators have started to take notice, for example, the FTC in the US and the Italian Data Protection Authority. Now’s a good time as ever for tech organizations and generative AI makers to pay attention and be proactive. We know they already do this when it comes to their corporate-orientated, paid customer models as those AI products very explicitly don’t retain data. Right now, tech companies don’t feel they need to do this for free individual users (or to at least give them the option to opt-out), so until they do, they’ll probably continue to scoop up all of the conversational data they can.

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