Microsoft says humans could be listening to your Skype calls

They could also be listening to conversations with virtual assistant Cortana.

Corinne Reichert Senior Editor
Corinne Reichert (she/her) grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to California in 2019. She holds degrees in law and communications, and currently writes news, analysis and features for CNET across the topics of electric vehicles, broadband networks, mobile devices, big tech, artificial intelligence, home technology and entertainment. In her spare time, she watches soccer games and F1 races, and goes to Disneyland as often as possible.
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Corinne Reichert
2 min read
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Microsoft says humans are listening to snippets of some Skype calls.

Jaap Arriens/Getty Images

Microsoft has revealed that humans could be listening to "short snippets" of voice conversations on its audio services like Skype and virtual assistant Cortana , Motherboard reported Wednesday. Microsoft confirmed the report saying the disclosure came in an update to its privacy statement.

The news comes a week after Motherboard reported that Microsoft contractors listen to recordings of some Skype conversations and some interactions with Cortana. It also follows similar revelations about other big tech firms and their audio services. This month, AppleGoogle and Amazon all suspended human review of user audio recordings, and Facebook followed suit last week.

"We realized, based on questions raised recently, that we could do a better job specifying that humans sometimes review this content," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "We've updated our privacy statement and product FAQs to add greater clarity and will continue to examine further opportunities to improve."

Microsoft's privacy statement says human review is used to help build, train and improve the accuracy of its artificial intelligence systems.

"Our processing of personal data for these purposes includes both automated and manual (human) methods," Microsoft's  privacy policy says. "We manually review short snippets of a small sampling of voice data we have taken steps to de-identify to improve our speech services, such as recognition and translation."

The spokesperson said Microsoft always works to "de-identify the content provided to vendors," as well as requiring them to sign non-disclosure agreements.

"[We] require that handling of this data be held to the highest privacy standards set out in European law," the Microsoft spokesperson added. 

Motherboard added Wednesday afternoon that Microsoft's human review contractors are paid between $12 and $14 an hour for the job, and transcribe up to 200 audio clips every hour. This could include hearing "personal and sensitive information" via Cortana recordings, Motherboard reported.

Originally published Aug. 14, 12:41 p.m. PT. 
Update, 12:50 p.m.: Adds further report on contractors' pay and workload; 3:50 p.m.: adds comments from Microsoft

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