Microsoft contractors listen to some Skype user conversations

At the disposal of Vice Motherboard’s editorial board arrived documents, screenshots and audio recordings indicating that Microsoft contractors are listening to private conversations of Skype users, if they are conducted through the built-in translator of the application.

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]nd although there really is a warning on the Skype website that the company reserves the right to analyze the calls that the user wants to transfer (of course, to improve the platform), this warning does not say that the analysis will not be carried out by special algorithms, but by real people .

Short snippets of calls fell into the hands of journalists (usually no longer than 5-10 seconds long), during which users talked with loved ones about personal problems, including weight loss and relationship problems. Microsoft’s anonymous contractor, which provided Motherboard with a file cache, emphasized that the company is extremely careless about user data.

Moreover, Microsoft contractors seem to be listening to the voice commands that users give to Cortana’s voice assistant. Let me remind you that more recently, Apple, Google and Amazon were forced to stop such practices under public pressure.

Read also: Apple and Google employees and contractors will no longer listen to conversations with voice assistants

Although the Skype translator, introduced back in 2015, uses artificial intelligence, as in many other projects related to AI and machine learning, some work is done by people: they perform the same tasks as the AI itself to improve the operation of algorithms.

Therefore, according to screenshots and other documents studied by journalists, when a Microsoft contractor is provided with an audio recording for transcription, along with it he receives several approximate translations created by the Skype translation system. The contractor should listen to the recording, and then select the most accurate translation from the list of proposed ones or provide its own option.

“Some of the recordings that I heard can be unmistakably described as phone sex. I heard people enter full addresses through Cortana commands or ask Cortana to search for pornographic queries. Although I do not know what can be done with such information, it seems strange to me that this data is not processed in a more controlled environment. Although we do not have access to information identifying users, in general it seems to me that if Microsoft users knew that some random people were sitting in their pajamas at home and could joke with friends on the Internet about what they listen, no one would like it”, – an anonymous contractor told the periodical.

Motherboard reporters contacted Microsoft representative and he confirmed that the company does collect voice data to provide and improve the quality of services (such as search, voice commands, dictation or translation services), but strives to be as transparent as possible in collecting and using user information.

“Microsoft always gets customers permission before collecting and using their voice data”, – he said.

Among the frequently asked questions about Skype Translator and the Cortana documentation, it really says that the company can use voice data to improve the quality of its services. However, Motherboard reporters once again emphasize that there is not a word in the documentation that living people will work with the recordings.

[box]The company representative also assured that all data that is transmitted to contractors is anonymized. So, audio data is available only through a special secure portal, and the company is taking steps to remove identification information from the records (for example, device or user ID). In addition, employees working with such information sign a non-disclosure agreement and undertake to comply with the confidentiality standards set forth in European law.[/box]

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Sophia Zimmerman

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