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Microsoft admits to recording customers’ Skype and Cortana voice conversations

Microsoft admits to recording customers’ Skype and Cortana voice conversations

Microsoft has become the latest technology firm to admit collecting voice conversations from Skype and the Cortana voice assistant, employing contractors to transcribe them for internal use. The admission was made this week with an update to the company’s privacy policy, after Apple, Facebook and Google all made similar admissions. “We realised, based on questions

Microsoft has become the latest technology firm to admit collecting voice conversations from Skype and the Cortana voice assistant, employing contractors to transcribe them for internal use.

The admission was made this week with an update to the company’s privacy policy, after Apple, Facebook and Google all made similar admissions. “We realised, based on questions raised recently, that we could do a better job specifying that humans sometimes review this content,” a spokesperson told Reuters.

Last week, it was revealed that Microsoft contractors are listening-in to Skype conversations when users used the communications app’s translation feature.

At the time, Microsoft justified the eavesdropping by stating – in the terms and conditions – that “sentences and automatic transcripts are analyzed and any corrections are entered into our system”. In other words, it uses the recordings, it claimed, to improve the quality of the translations, but its terms and conditions were not explicit that they could be listened to and transcribed by third parties.

In a statement, a Microsoft spokesperson admitted that it collected the voice data to “improve voice-enabled services like search, voice commands, dictation or translation services”.

Microsoft’s admission follows on from similar admissions by Apple, Facebook and Google.

Google claimed to have halted a practice of hiring contractors to make transcriptions of recordings in Europe two weeks ago.

But it’s not the first time that Google has been accused of surreptitiously recording people’s conversations. When the Google voice assistant was introduced to the Chromium open-source browser project it was found to be recording and sending audio back to Google without users’ consent, with this ‘feature’ turned on by default. That’s on top of multiple other claims about Google breaching people’s privacy, which have even extended to the company’s Nest security cameras.

Earlier this week, Facebook admitted hiring outside contractors to transcribe audio clips exfiltrated from users’ Messenger voice communications. It claimed that it did so in order to check whether the app’s artificial intelligence algorithms were correctly interpreting anonymised audio snippets. Under questioning, a Facebook spokesperson claimed that the company had stopped doing it following criticisms of Apple and Google over similar practices.

The casual nature in which private communications have been captured raises questions over data privacy, and whether even the biggest technology companies in the world can be trusted to respect users’ privacy – despite what they may claim in their advertising.

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