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Microsoft Contractors Reportedly Listen to Select Skype and Cortana Recordings

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Following news about Apple, Google, and Amazon using human transcribers to analyze conversations with their respective AI assistants, it appears that humans are also listening to calls being done on Microsoft’s Skype service.

According to a new report from Vice‘s Motherboard, a number of documents and audio recordings show Microsoft contractors – some of whom work from home – are listening to personal conversations conducted using Skype Translator, the company’s translating service.

The audio, handed over by a Microsoft contractor, reveals that conversations snooped on have included people talking intimately to loved ones, people talking about personal issues and others discussing relationship problems.

“The fact that I can even share some of this with you shows how lax things are in terms of protecting user data,” the anonymous contractor said.

In a Skype Translator Privacy FAQ, the company explains that “To help the translation and speech recognition technology learn and grow, sentences and automatic transcripts are analyzed and any corrections are entered into our system, to build more performant services.” The fact that this work in done partly by humans is never mentioned explicitly.

“The Skype audio obtained by Motherboard includes conversations from people talking intimately to loved ones; some chatting about personal issues such as their weight loss, and others seemingly discussing relationship problems,” reads the report.



Motherboard also said it had evidence that human contractors could hear voice commands spoken to Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual voice-activated assistant.

“Microsoft gets customers’ permission before collecting and using their voice data,” a spokeswoman for the firm said in a statement.

“We also put in place several procedures designed to prioritize users’ privacy before sharing this data with our vendors, including de-identifying data, requiring non-disclosure agreements with vendors and their employees, and requiring that vendors meet the high privacy standards set out in European law,” the spokesperson continued.

Microsoft also told Motherboard that audio data is only available to contractors through a secure online portal and that the company takes steps to remove identifying information such as user or device identification numbers.

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