Microsoft Workers Listen In To Skype Conversations, Report States

Yolanda Curtis
August 11, 2019

Google, Apple and Amazon devices highlighted that despite growth in market for smart speakers and devices is seen, customers need to be given assurance over their data remaining safe.

A Microsoft spokesperson told Fox News in a statement via email on Thursday: "Microsoft collects voice data to provide and improve voice-enabled services like search, voice commands, dictation or translation services".

Skype Translator is an optional feature within Skype explained in this FAQ and use of voice data in Cortana is explained here. The contractor then needs to select the most accurate translation or provide their own, and the audio is treated as confidential Microsoft information, the screenshots show.

The report noted that Skype's real-time translation service does use artificial intelligence to carry out the job, but it also uses human inputs to improve the algorithms and the quality of the final translation.

"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", Microsoft said. However, users may be unaware that snippets of some of their intimate and private conversations are being listened to by human contractors.

Microsoft is not the only Silicon Valley company listening to recording of users. In the statement, the technology company addressed why it collects these recordings, asserted that it was being transparent about this practice, and stated that it "gets customers' permission before collecting and using their voice data". In April this year, it was revealed that Amazon's voice assistant Alexa was sometimes recording private conversations. Another section adds, "To help the technology learn and grow, we verify the automatic translations and feed any corrections back into the system, to build more performant services". The contractors also sign non-disclosure agreements to meet privacy standards established as per the law.

Google meanwhile said it would pause listening to and transcribing conversations in the European Union from its Google Assistant in the wake of a privacy investigation in Germany.

A privacy expert told Motherboard that companies like Microsoft should alert consumers that their chats might be reviewed by humans and give them the change to opt out. Microsoft said in response to an AFP inquiry.

Microsoft limits the access to voice data to approved vendors who have agreed to our terms, and all vendors accessing speech data have been certified as compliant in accordance with Microsoft's Supplier Security Privacy Assurance program.

Microsoft claims the audio data is only available to contractors through a secure online portal, and that the company takes steps to remove identifying information like user or device identification numbers.

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