Earlier this month, a Vice report revealed that just like Amazon, Google and Facebook, contractual workers deployed by Microsoft listen to the snippets of conversation recorded when users interact with the company’s virtual assistant, Cortana. The report also revealed that the company’s contractual workers also listen to and transcribe the conversations conducted by users when using Skype app’s translation service, which was launched by the company back in 2015.
Up until now, it was believed that artificial intelligence (AI) translated the chats in Skype’s translation service. But the report review that the company’s AI had human help. “The fact that I can even share some of this with you shows how lax things are in terms of protecting user data,” said a Microsoft contractor who provided the audio files to the publication.
“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,” a Microsoft spokesperson told the publication responding to the story at the time.
“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,” the company’s privacy statement now states.
“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,” Cortana’s privacy page says.
“When you use Skype’s translation features, Skype collects and uses your conversation to help improve Microsoft products and services. To help the translation and speech recognition technology learn and grow, sentences and automatic transcripts are analyzed and any corrections are entered into our system, to build more performant services. 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,” Microsoft wrote in the FAQ section of Skype.
That said, Microsoft does provide a privacy dashboard that allows users to actively delete their voice data.