Microsoft updates privacy policy to clearly state that humans listen to Skype and Cortana audio

(WOCinTech/Flickr)

Microsoft has changed several sections of its privacy policies to acknowledge that humans listen to audio recorded by its Cortana AI assistant and the Skype Translate services.

The move appears to be spurred by Motherboard's interview with a Microsoft contractor, who described listening Skype calls to review the quality of the app's AI-enabled live translations.

The company's Privacy Statement, the new text states:

Our processing of personal data for these purposes includes both automated and manual (human) methods of processing. Our automated methods often are related to and supported by our manual methods. For example, our automated methods include artificial intelligence (AI), which we think of as a set of technologies that enable computers to perceive, learn, reason, and assist in decision-making to solve problems in ways that are similar to what people do. To build, train, and improve the accuracy of our automated methods of processing (including AI), we manually review some of the predictions and inferences produced by the automated methods against the underlying data from which the predictions and inferences were made. For example, we manually review short snippets of a small sampling of voice data we have taken steps to de-identify to improve our speech services, such as recognition and translation.

The text under Cortana and Privacy was updated August 12, and states:

When you use your voice to say something to Cortana or invoke skills, Microsoft uses your voice data to improve Cortana’s understanding of how you speak, as well as to improve other Microsoft products and services that use speech recognition and intent understanding. 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 secret behind AI assistants

Now anyone can join Amazon's Q&A community to write answers for Alexa

September 13th
The crowdsourced site Alexa Answers was previously invite-only.

The secret behind AI assistants

August 18th
To answer the questions you ask Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant, tech companies have employed armies contractors to listen to recordings and take notes.

Motherboard speaks with a Microsoft contractor who reviews Skype call audio

August 7th
The interview describes how contractors listen to real call recordings to review and improve Skype's live translation feature

Amazon adds option allowing users to disable human reviews of their Alexa recordings

August 2nd
The move comes after Bloomberg discovered in April the company uses contractors and employees to review audio clips recorded by Alexa

Google tells privacy watch dog that it ceased manual Google Assistant audio clip reviews

August 2nd
The Germany privacy watch dog informed Google that its manual review of audio clips was in violation of GDPR

Apple suspends human review of Siri recordings

August 1st
Following a Guardian report that contractors listen to sexual acts and other private encounters, Apple has suspended its manual review program.

Apple uses contractors to review Siri recordings, including those made on accident

July 26th
The Guardian spoke with a contractor who described listening to sexual encounters, patient-doctor conersations, and drug deals.

A Belgian news outlet was able to identify people from their leaked Google Assistant and Home audio recordings

July 11th
Privacy policies tell you a lot about the way large company AIs work, and don't.

Bloomberg talks to Amazon contractors who review Alexa recordings

April 10th
Amazon employs contractors and full-time employees to listen to, transcribe and annotate recordings to improve Alexa's responses

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.