Concerns about privacy have always been present around technology. Until now, large companies have managed to mitigate most consumer fears about the possibility that their private lives could be exposed. However, that is changing thanks to revelations linked to Amazon, Google and Apple. Now, Microsoft joins the trend.
If you thought your Skype calls and the questions you ask Cortana were totally private, you are wrong, especially if you ever used the language translation feature. After that news was released, now game console users also have something to worry about.
Your Xbox console spares you at home
According to Motherboard, contractor employees who work for Microsoft have been listening to the audio of Xbox users without their consent. This, they said, was to improve the voice command functions of the console.
Suppose the audio that these employees listened to should have been captured only after following a voice command such as "Xbox" or "Hey Cortana." However, contractors claim that the recordings were sometimes activated at any time and recorded in error, giving them access to personal conversations or private situations in the home of people who own a Microsoft game console.
Your Skype calls and your privacy
Previously, Motherboard published another report that shows documents, audio and screenshots that indicate that Microsoft contractor employees are listening to some Skype calls. In addition, they also hear the questions and voice commands that users give Cortana, the intelligent assistant of the company
Essentially, Microsoft employees receive audio recording samples of some Skype calls (usually those that are made through the application's translation function), as well as audio recordings of voice commands to Cortana. With Skype calls, contractors are expected to help transcribe what they hear, either by choosing the best Skype-generated translation or by adding their own translation.
While the Motherboard report mentions that the screenshots show that “audio is handled as confidential information from Microsoft,” the problem here is that contractors can still listen to explicit conversations and voice commands on totally private personal matters, including conversations. that could involve confidential information, or even telephone sex. In addition, Cortana's voice commands may contain complete addresses and data, or potentially embarrassing personal inquiries.
In addition, it does not appear that Microsoft has been completely transparent about this audio recording review practice. And although the section on Frequently Asked Questions about the privacy of the Skype translator mentions the collection and analysis of calls, there seems to be no mention of the fact that human translators are part of the “translation services” offered by the function Skype translator.
In fact, Skype emphasizes that the collection of these conversations aims to help improve the “technology” behind its translation service, but does not go into details about the people who are daily behind that technology: To provide you with a translated conversation, The content of your communication is passed through our voice recognition and / or translation services before being returned in the chosen language.
Skype translation is a new technology that will improve the more it is used. To help technology learn and grow, we verify machine translations and feed back corrections in the system, to build more efficient services, ”he adds. As you can see, nowhere is the participation of people mentioned.
Microsoft defends itself
Microsoft issued a statement to Motherboard explaining why it collects these recordings, stating that it was transparent about this practice and that "it obtains permission from customers before collecting and using its voice data."
The company also described the measures it has taken to guarantee the privacy of its users by participating in this practice, including the identification of data, confidentiality agreements with suppliers and their employees, and the requirement that they comply with high privacy standards. established. We continue to review the way we handle voice data to ensure that the options are as clear as possible for customers and provide strong privacy protections, ”says the statement. The Motherboard report also mentioned that Microsoft said contractors can only access audio data through "a secure online portal."
This situation is linked to the fact that Apple, Google and Amazon also confirmed that they employ humans to listen to the recordings of their users' interactions with their intelligent assistants.
Although it is claimed that Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant recordings that are analyzed after someone says the device activation word do not include personal information, such as the user's home address, they do have a link to an account number , and also show the name of the owner and the serial number of the device.