Last month it was reported by Motherboard that Microsoft is employing contractors to listen to recordings of personal conversations held on Skype through their translation service. Motherboard obtained several internal audio recordings, screenshots and documents that show what’s been happening.

Skype stated that their services ‘collects and uses’ any calls that use the translate feature, but they didn’t specify that these recording are then analysed by people.

Microsoft listens to your skype calls

Shortly after the first report was published, Microsoft updated their privacy policy and other pages, like their FAQs page, to state explicitly that human contractors or employees may listen to audio recordings captured by their Skype translator service.

Reports state that contractors transcribe the recorded audio clips to make sure it matches what the AI (Artificial Intelligence) thinks it is. Microsoft has said that these audio clips are only available to contractors through a secure online portal and the audio is classed as confidential Microsoft information.

A spokesperson for Microsoft told Motherboard 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,”

It was also reported that audio is recorded by Microsoft’s virtual assistant, Cortana. These audio recordings are then listened to by contractors employed by Microsoft as well. When updating their privacy policy, Microsoft also stated that this may be the case with recordings from Cortana. It’s known that the other big virtual assistants by Apple, Google and Amazon also have audio recordings analysed by contractors, so the reports that Microsoft is doing the same shouldn’t come as a surprise.