Microsoft contractors are listening to select Skype calls

Microsoft contractors are listening to select Skype calls

Written 1 week ago by IanDorfman

Following in the wake of other companies (such as Google with its AI Assistant), Microsoft is the latest case of a company having contractors listen to private conversations, this time using their Skype voice and video chat service.

An investigative report by Motherboard detailed that select Small Skype iconSkype conversations that used the service's real-time translation service were reviewed by contractors hired by Microsoft in order to help improve its functionality. Though the Skype Translator website shows that conversations are sampled through machine learning in order to help improve the service, it does not mention the fact that some of them are also analyzed by humans. Not only that, but contractors are also listening to commands that users speak to Small Cortana iconCortana, Microsoft's personal assistant.

The report by Motherboard describes the saved audio as including intimate conversations between loved ones and what the Microsoft contractor that worked with Motherboard says "could clearly be described as phone sex." This information is all being collected without any clear indication on either the Skype Translator FAQ or Microsoft's privacy policy.

Microsoft sent the following statement to Motherboard when the outlet sent questions:

"Microsoft collects voice data to provide and improve voice-enabled services like search, voice commands, dictation or translation services. We strive to be transparent about our collection and use of voice data to ensure customers can make informed choices about when and how their voice data is used. Microsoft gets customers’ permission before collecting and using their voice data.
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. We continue to review the way we handle voice data to ensure we make options as clear as possible to customers and provide strong privacy protections,"

Though the audio samples usually do not include personally identifiable information, the lack of user input as to whether or not any portion of their conversations can be listened to by contractors can be considered a violation of privacy.

Further coverage:
Motherboard
Engadget
The Verge
ZDNet