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Microsoft Contractors Found Listening to Some Audio Calls When Skype Translator Feature is Active
The information gathered includes Skype audio regarding intimate conversations between couples and more. The data also suggests that Microsoft contractors listen to voice commands spoken to Cortana, the company's smart voice assistant. The information seen by Microsoft contractors is anonymized and doesn't contain any user identifiable information.
These contractors (who mostly work from home) do manual translations of Skype audio conversations, sent by Microsoft along with a series of approximate translations generated by Skype's AI program. The contractor has to select the most accurate translation or provide their own, and they send the information back to Microsoft.
Microsoft warns users that it analyzes audio of translated calls in Skype to improve its services, but it does not mention that some of the analysis will be done by humans. The translation feature lets users perform real-time audio translations during phone and video calls, powered by artificial intelligence.
"The fact that I can even share some of this with you shows how lax things are in terms of protecting user data," a Microsoft contractor who provided the cache of files to Motherboard, said.According to Microsoft, the company's terminology on its Skype translator feature and on Cortana are clear and straightforward in how it uses voice data to improve each service. "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," the company said.
The contractor said, "I generally feel like that while we do not have access to user identifiable information, that if Microsoft users were aware that random people sitting at home in their pajamas who could be joking online with friends about the stuff they just heard that they wouldn't like that."
Microsoft also said that the audio data sent to contractors is through a secure online portal, and that it ensures any identifying information (like the user's name or device identification numbers) are removed. Despite all of this, Microsoft's terminology still doesn't mention that human workers might listen to your Skype translation conversations, or Cortana commands.
The Skype story from Motherboard emerges today following previous articles centered on human workers listening to Siri recordings at Apple and Google Assistant recordings at Google. Following these reports, Apple suspended its own program wherein contractors listened to anonymized Siri recordings for quality control purposes.