Amazon, Google, and Apple have recently come under fire because of the way they have handed audio clips to human reviewers with users’ knowledge. All three companies have commented and put their programs on hold to avoid possible lawsuits and further backlash. It turns out that it’s not just voice-controlled smart assistants are involved in this business practice. Even Skype calls, long considered to be sacrosanct, are apparently subjected to the same treatment and some Microsoft contractors have become privy to those conversations, even very intimate ones.
Users have just presumed that certain utterances, because of their sensitive nature, are by default made private and honored as such. Some of them may be aware that they are agreeing to have recordings analyzed to improve their service. None of those, however, ever disclose that those recordings are actually being heard by humans. They merely presumed it will be processed by other machines.
That’s not the case, according to multiple reports, and considering that those smart speakers may mishear trigger words, they may inadvertently record private moments. Worse, however, is the case of Skype, now owned by Microsoft, that is used for many kinds of voice and video calls, ranging from business to personal. In both cases, callers have the presumption of privacy but Microsoft may have been violating that basic principle behind their backs.
A contractor tells Motherboard that they are able to listen to clips of those calls ranging from five or ten seconds to more than that. That’s even true for Cortana voice commands. While Skype does present users a disclaimer about improving its Translator service by analyzing audio samples, it doesn’t say anything about human reviewers.
Even more worrying, however, the reported lax security Microsoft implements when it comes to what contractors are able access or, in this case, divulge. Just like Google and Amazon, Microsoft’s response is a typical PR statement of how it respects users’ privacy and does everything by the books. That is, of course, until reported otherwise.