Beware, Skype users! Microsoft workers are listening to your private conversations

Joanna Estrada
August 11, 2019

The company's policy includes voice data recording. Apple and Google both recently suspended the practice of having contractors listen in on smart device queries.

The Microsoft news takes a slightly different spin than the recent allegations faced by Apple, Google, and Amazon.

In 2015, Skype launched its Translator service which lets user get real-time audio translations during a phone or a video call.

The Skype audio that triggered the report comprises of conversations people have had with those close to them, about personal and sensitive issues.

"Some stuff I've heard could clearly be described as phone sex", the contractor told Motherboard. In the company's Skype Translator FAQ and Cortana FAQ, Microsoft discloses that it analyses voice data "to build more performant services", though, as noted in the report from Motherboard, the company does not explicitly disclose that a human may listen to users' voice recordings.

Motherboard, further, claimed that when a Microsoft's contractor has to transcribe a piece of audio, they are given a series of approximate translations generated by Skype's translation system.

On Wednesday, Microsoft admitted that its contractors listen to Skype and Cortana conversations, to hone voice translation features, but only after obtaining user permission. Different companies focus on providing a variety of new products and services to make users more dependable on technology than ever. According to Microsoft, it uses voice data on an opt-in basis, just to listen to a specific variety of voice data when needed and respond with modification according to that. An unnamed Microsoft contractor, who shared recorded audio files with web portal Motherboard, has admitted that they have heard users entering their full addresses using Microsoft's digital assistant Cortana, as well as using the voice assistant to search for pornography.

"We also put in place several procedures created 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".

Why do contractors review voice recordings?

"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", the spokesperson says in the statement.

Go to the voice section of Microsoft's Privacy dashboard. Microsoft takes steps to de-identify this voice data, such as removing any user or device IDs, to ensure it can not be used to single out any individual user or tied back to any device.

From the My Activity tab on the Privacy page, scroll down to Voice activity.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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