Recently leaked insider information revealed that Microsoft contractors have been listening in on some Skype and Cortana recordings. From the Breitbart News article last week:
Leaked documents and screenshots obtained by Motherboard reveal that Microsoft contract workers are listening in on personal conversations of Skype users that are using the app’s translation service. According to Skype’s website, the company reserves the right to analyze audio and phone calls through the app’s translation feature in order to improve the translation service. However, it doesn’t note that human workers will be doing some of this analysis by listening in on calls.
According to audio obtained by Motherboard, the recorded calls include conversations between loved ones, some talking about personal issues and others discussing relationship problems. A Microsoft contractor who provided a number of files to Motherboard stated: “The fact that I can even share some of this with you shows how lax things are in terms of protecting user data.”
Skype launched its Translator service in 2015 which allows users to perform near real-time audio translations during phone calls. The service uses artificial intelligence but some of the work involved in the service is done by human completing the same tasks that the AI is supposed to do, supposedly in order to improve algorithms. The Skype Translator FAQ page states: “Skype collects and uses your conversation to help improve Microsoft products and services. To help the translation and speech recognition technology learn and grow, sentences and automatic transcripts are analyzed and any corrections are entered into our system, to build more performant services.”
The product FAQ for Skype Translator now explains how conversations made using the product may be collected and used stating: “This may include transcription of audio recordings by Microsoft employees and vendors, subject to procedures designed to protect users’ privacy, including taking steps to de-identify data, requiring non-disclosure agreements with vendors and their employees, and requiring that vendors meet the high privacy standards set out in European law and elsewhere.”
The firm also now allows users to delete audio recordings made of themselves using an online tool. Some tech firms have suspended the use of human transcribers, Microsoft has not. A spokesperson stated: “We’ve updated our privacy statement and product FAQs to add greater clarity and will continue to examine further steps we might be able to take.”