Microsoft Updates Privacy Policy To Admit Listening To Voice Data

Following the discovery that Microsoft contractors sometimes listen to translated Skype calls, Redmond has updated its privacy policy.

The updated policy now admits that the software giant does collect user voice data via its staff and contractors.

The admission comes after a contractor revealed to Motherboard last week that Microsoft workers occasionally listen to real Skype conversations that have been processed by its translation software. The idea is that some of these conversations are ‘reviewed’ to check the quality of translations….

Earlier this month, a Vice report revealed that, like Amazon, Google and Facebook, contract workers deployed by Microsoft listen to recorded conversation fragments when users interact with the company’s virtual assistant, Cortana. The report also revealed that the company’s contract workers also listen and transcribe the conversations made by users when they use the Skype application translation service, which the company launched in 2015.

Privacy admission

Internal documents published in the media also revealed that “the Skype audio obtained by Motherboard includes conversations of people who talk intimately with their loved ones, some talk about personal issues such as their weight loss and others apparently discuss relationship problems.”

Other files showed that Microsoft contractors are also listening to voice commands that users talk to Cortana, the company’s voice assistant.

This development meant that Microsoft became the last to get involved in the privacy row surrounding the use of digital personal assistants of a tech giant, when they listen and record user interactions.

What made this discovery so alarming was that, although Microsoft admitted in its privacy policy that it has users’ permission to collect and process their data, it nowhere indicated that humans can really hear the calls.

Microsoft admitted that it collected user data when faced with it last week, but now the company has updated its privacy policy so that customers know that it has been collecting voice data from its users with the help of employees and contractors, he said. Reuters

According to reports, a Microsoft spokesman said the company collects voice data to provide voice-enabled services for Skype and Cortana and sometimes uses providers to help improve these services.

“We realized, based on the questions recently raised, that we could do a better job specifying that humans sometimes review this content,” the spokesman told Reuters in a statement sent via email.

“We have updated our privacy statement and frequently asked questions about products to add clarity and will continue to examine new opportunities for improvement,” the Microsoft spokesman added.

Privacy scares

There have been a number of privacy issues of technology companies that apparently listen to people’s conversations with their personal assistants.

Earlier this year, it was reported that a global team of people at Amazon reviewed audio clips of people talking to their smart speakers with Alexa technology, to help improve their functionality.

Concerns arose again about Amazon again in May when the e-commerce giant filed a patent that would allow Alexa to record everything a person says, before an activation command word is issued.

In May, Amazon was hit with two lawsuits claiming that its smart speakers with Alexa technology are recording children.

Amazon did not help matters last month when it admitted in a letter to an American senator who keeps the voice recordings of Alexa users indefinitely.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, the Luxembourg data protection regulator opened talks with Amazon about how the company processed Alexa voice recordings made of people.

Google was also involved when it admitted in July that it uses “language experts” worldwide to study small “fragments” of user recordings obtained from Google Home smart speakers.

Together with Apple (with its assistant Siri) they have now suspended the review of users’ voice recordings.

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