Skype calls no longer transcribed in China, security concerns remain

Ewdison Then - Jan 13, 2020, 6:17am CST
Skype calls no longer transcribed in China, security concerns remain

After its acquisition, Microsoft has tried to reinvent Skype’s image as something not just for businesses anymore but as a communication tool for groups as well as personal chats well. In other words, Microsoft wants people to know they can use Skype for any and all chats, be it text, audio, or its original video functionality. Unfortunately, it seems that putting all your communication eggs in one Microsoft basket may have repercussions in terms of privacy, especially after the latest report that exposes the company’s rather lax security standards for the service.

Last week, The Guardian reported on how Skype audio snippets are being sent to contractors for transcription, some of which are located in China. That alone might already raise a few eyebrows but the fact that, according to a whistleblower, Microsoft has done very little to protect that data might send Skype users panicking. In a nutshell, reviewers are able to access files through methods that would be simple for hackers or governments to intercept.

Microsoft is partially washing its hands off the infraction by laying the blame on the contractor, suggesting it was not aware of how it was being handled there. The company tells The Verge that it has moved transcription to “secure facilities in a small number of countries”. It didn’t fully disclose the steps it is taking to secure such audio snippets.

This isn’t the first time that Microsoft has been criticized for the way it handles Skype audio. Last year, it was revealed that, just like Amazon, Google, and Apple, it employed these contractors to transcribe audio 10 seconds or shorter in length to improve Skype’s machine learning. Unlike others, Microsoft didn’t move to stop the practice but only clarified that it is, in fact, engaging in such a practice.

This could be problematic for a service that Microsoft wants to be used everywhere, from personal family chats to secret business dealings. It may need to improve its privacy policies and practices if it still wants to keep Skype from sliding into obscurity against rivals that promise more security and privacy than it.

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