Microsoft contract workers reportedly listened to personal Skype calls


8 Aug 2019153 Views

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A report claims to have obtained audio recordings that include intimate conversations between loved ones.

Microsoft contractors are able to listen to some conversations that go through Skype’s translation function, a report by Vice Motherboard has claimed.

Audio files obtained by Motherboard include reams of personal Skype conversations concerning a variety of different topics, all unwittingly provided to contract workers for Microsoft. Contract workers were also given audio from users employing the app’s translation service. Workers can also listen to voice commands spoken to Microsoft’s virtual assistant Cortana, it is suggested.

While the tech giant states in its policies that it may analyse audio recordings to improve translations and gets permission from users prior to collecting voice data, it does not make clear that humans may be listening to these recordings.

“Microsoft collects voice data to provide and improve voice-enabled services like search, voice commands, dictation or translation services,” a Microsoft spokesperson said.

“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.

“We also put in place several procedures designed to prioritise 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.”

The news comes amid increased pressure on tech firms to be more transparent about the use of human reviewers who listen to voice recordings, largely with the aim of improving voice recognition features.

Apple and Google both recently suspended their own use of human workers to review audio after customers expressed concern over the privacy implications. Meanwhile, Amazon has moved to give users of its Alexa virtual assistant the option to opt-out of having humans analyse their audio and is currently battling a lawsuit surrounding the collection and retention of children’s audio.

— PA Media, with additional reporting by Eva Short