Monday, 19 August, 2019

Beware, Skype users! Microsoft workers are listening to your private conversations

Eavesdropping Microsoft contractors hear phone sex and more while reviewing Cortana, Skype audio
Emmett Howard | 11 August, 2019, 03:27

Apparently, this is done simply to test and further improve services, and Microsoft states that this is done with users' permission.

The workers - often contractors working from home - will listen to snippets of chats generally between five and 10 seconds long.

"The contractor also spoke about clearer privacy policies, adding, "... if Microsoft users were aware that random people sitting at home in their pajamas who could be joking online with friends about the stuff they just heard, they wouldn't like that".

Furthermore, according to Motherboard, it doesn't appear that Microsoft has been entirely transparent about this audio recording review practice.

"People use Skype to call their lovers, interview for jobs, or connect with their families overseas", Frederike Kaltheuner, data exploitation program lead at activist group Privacy International, said in an online chat with Vice.

"Microsoft collects voice data to provide and improve voice-enabled services like search, voice commands, dictation or translation services", Microsoft said in response to an AFP inquiry.

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There was a report in the past that Google, Amazon, and Apple listen to the voice of their users. "To help the technology learn and grow, we verify the automatic translations and feed any corrections back into the system, to build more performant services". No section of this FAQ says that the audio could be listened to by any other human person.

The other files, obtained by Motherboard, also revealed that Microsoft workers were also listening to users' commands to company's voice assistant software Cortana. However, that doesn't stop individuals from revealing data about themselves (like their address) when talking to a digital assistant like Cortana, and it doesn't seem as if there's any setup in place to prevent Microsoft's contractors from analyzing that kind of spoken data. In a statement to the media, Microsoft said it wants "to be transparent" about its collection and use of voice data to "ensure customers can make informed choices".

To be clear, the contractor did say that they do not have access to users' personal, user-identifiable data.

The company also said it requires vendors to meet privacy standards set out in European law. "And if a sample of your voice is going to human review (for whatever reason) the system should ask them whether you are ok with that, or at least give you the option to opt out".

As reported by Vice, an anonymous Microsoft contractor leaked the information.

Recent incidents involving Google, Apple and Amazon devices underscore that despite strong growth in the market for smart speakers and devices, more work is needed to reassure consumers that their data is protected when they use the technology.

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