MICROSOFT CONTRACTORS are listening in on Skype conversations carried out using the service's translation service, Motherboard has revealed.
While the Skype website states that "sentences and automatic transcripts are analyzed and any corrections are entered into our system", nowhere does it mention that this so-called analysis is carried out by humans.
However, a bevvy of documents and audio recordings obtained by Motherboard show Microsoft contractors - some of whom work from home - are listening to personal conversations conducted using Skype Translator, the company's real-time, er, translating service.
The audio, handed over by a Microsoft contractor, reveals that conversations snooped on have included people talking intimately to loved ones, people talking about personal issues and others discussing relationship problems.
"The fact that I can even share some of this with you shows how lax things are in terms of protecting user data," the anonymous contractor said.
Other files obtained by Motherboard show that Microsoft contractors are also listening to voice commands that users speak to Cortana; this comes just weeks after it was revealed that Amazon, Apple and Google are also employing human staffers to review AI recordings, and days after all three firms suspended their respective programmes.
"Some stuff I've heard could clearly be described as phone sex," the contractor said. "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," they added.
A Microsoft spokesperson said in a 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."
"We also put in place several procedures designed to prioritize users' privacy before sharing this data with our vendors, including de-identifying data, requiring non-disclosure agreements with vendors and their employees, and requiring that vendors meet the high privacy standards set out in European law.
"We continue to review the way we handle voice data to ensure we make options as clear as possible to customers and provide strong privacy protections."
Microsoft also told Motherboard that audio data is only available to contractors through a secure online portal and that the company takes steps to remove identifying information such as user or device identification numbers. µ
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