Amazon and Google have been in the headlines recently over how the tech giants’ workers eavesdrop on the audio footage picked up by smart assistants.
Now Microsoft has explaining to do following reports that its employees listen in on real Skype conversations that have gone through translation software processing.
As explained by tech website, Motherboard, people contracted to work with Microsoft take dialogues in for review as a means of translation quality control. The controversy lies in the fact that no mention of this surveillance appears in Skype’s terms and conditions.
While Microsoft maintains that it has users’ permission to harvest and process account holders’ data, Motherboard says it received audio footage from translated Skype chats which featured intimate words shared by loved ones and personal issues, such as diet and relationships.
The website also says it obtained proof that human workers were able to listen to voice commands spoken Microsoft’s smart assistant, Cortana.
A Microsoft spokesperson said:
“Microsoft gets customers’ permission before collecting and using their voice data.
“We also put in place several procedures designed to prioritise 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.”
In the firm’s privacy documents, Microsoft explains that user data may be passed on to “vendors” working on the company’s behalf. However, there is no detail attached to this stance, and no suggestion is made that human workers, or AI systems are included in the arrangement.
The predicament resonates with a number of high-profile news stories of late, regarding other tech companies’ usage of humans to “improve” the services of virtual assistants.
Apple and Google took the decision to suspend the practice last week, while data protection authorities in Luxembourg are currently in talks with Amazon regarding the customer recordings made by the smart assistant, Alexa.
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