Feeling Left Out, Microsoft Admits to Audio Listening

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Microsoft Admits that Human Workers Listen to Skype Calls 138TOBIAS SCHWARZ GettyLucas Nolan15 Aug 2019

The updated privacy policy (via Vice) reads, "Our processing of personal data for these purposes includes both automated and manual (human) methods of processing".

Microsoft confirms that human employees and contractors may listen to audio recordings from Skype calls and Cortana queries.

While Google, Facebook, and Apple both announced earlier this month they will temporarily suspend the practice for some recordings, Microsoft has simply updated its privacy policies to disclose and specify that human workers may be listening in to recordings.

The computing giant has admitted that it could "do a better job" in highlighting that humans review content, after a recent report said that contractors are able to listen to some conversations that go through Skype's translation function.

But Microsoft seems keen to keep using to continue subjecting its contractors to the likely inane sputterings of some of its customers, as the company has clarified in its updated privacy policies for Cortana and other voice-activated services that the human review process will only be used for assessing and improving the performance of its AI tech and nothing else.

Don't think that Microsoft is unique in this practice.

The last couple of months have been hard for Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft as they have been under the radar for breaching user privacy.

The move will help users who managed to miss the hand-wringing of recent days and weeks, but doesn't change anything with regard to what the company is actually doing. "We manually review short snippets of a small sampling of voice data". This may include transcription of audio recordings by Microsoft employees and vendors.

Microsoft does provide some privacy options: In the Windows 10 privacy settings, for example, you can turn off your PC's mic access entirely, or place app-by-app limits on its ability to listen in. However, those terms never made it clear Microsoft would allow humans to do the listening. This can be done by going through its privacy dashboard.

A Microsoft spokesperson told GeekWire that the company gets permission from users before collecting and using voice data.

Unfortunately, Microsoft appears to have made one privacy decision without giving its customers the power to opt out: letting contractors review your private recordings, without identifying which recordings or allowing customers the ability to prevent it from happening.

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