Motherboard speaks with a Microsoft contractor who reviews Skype call audio

Microsoft campus (Wikimedia)

Motherboard has spoken with an anonymous Microsoft contractor who describes how humans listen to Skype call recordings to help improve the app's live translation feature:

When a contractor is presented by Microsoft with a piece of audio to transcribe, they are also given a series of approximate translations generated by Skype's translation system, according to the screenshots and other documents. The contractor then needs to select the most accurate translation or provide their own, and the audio is treated as confidential Microsoft information, the screenshots show.

"Some stuff I've heard could clearly be described as phone sex. I've heard people entering full addresses in Cortana commands, or asking Cortana to provide search returns on pornography queries. While I don't know exactly what one could do with this information, it seems odd to me that it isn't being handled in a more controlled environment," the contractor said.

Motherboard argued that the use of contractors isn't explicitly stated in any of Microsoft's privacy policies. Microsoft does, however, state that they review audio recordsing to improve their Skype and Cortana services.

Motherboard included a response from Microsoft in their story:

A Microsoft spokesperson told Motherboard in an emailed statement, "Microsoft collects voice data to provide and improve voice-enabled services like search, voice commands, dictation or translation services. 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. Microsoft gets customers’ permission before collecting and using their voice data."

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Sections

Surveillance and Privacy

August 16th

AI-enabled technologies produce and rely on vast troves of personal data, most of which is unregulated and vulnerable to theft and misuse.

These technologies include:

  • Facial recognition: It helps users unlock their smartphones. It also helps police in China track criminal suspects and monitor members of the Uyghur ethnic minority.
  • Personalization: It helps consumers make necessary purchases and discover entertainment, but also encourages developers to collect personal data from increasingly far-flung sources.
  • Voice assistants: They help users answer questions, create calendar events, and set alarms. They also record audio accidentally, and until recently relied on human reviewers to listen to private audio to improve their responses.
  • Smart home products: Similar to voice assistants, these products allow users to remotely operate appliances, set temperatures and access security footage. They also collect a vast amount of private information about the home life of their users.