Microsoft today updated its privacy policies to disclose that employees and contractors are listening to audio from some Skype calls and conversations with the tech giant’s digital assistant
The change comes after Vice’s Motherboard reported that humans were listening to recordings from Cortana and Skype Translator, a real-time translation service that lets people chat while speaking different languages. Microsoft previously indicated that it analyzed information from the services in order to improve them but did not disclose that people were listening.
A Microsoft spokesperson told GeekWire that the company gets permission from users before collecting and using voice data. However, in a statement the company said “we realized, based on questions raised recently, that we could do a better job specifying that humans sometimes review this content.”
Motherboard reported that privacy and FAQ pages for both Cortana and Skype Translator now include this paragraph about how data is collected, used and protected: “This may include transcription of audio recordings by Microsoft employees and vendors, subject to procedures designed to protect users’ privacy, including taking steps to de-identify data, requiring non-disclosure agreements with vendors and their employees, and requiring that vendors meet the high privacy standards set out in European law and elsewhere.”
Growing public awareness of privacy issues has put a microscope on how tech giants handle audio recordings made by users. Microsoft is the latest company caught up in the situation, joining fellow tech giants Amazon, Google, Apple and most recently Facebook.
Earlier this week, Bloomberg reported that the Irish Data Protection Commission, which leads Facebook oversight in Europe, said it is examining the tech giant’s practice of paying hundreds of contractors to transcribe user audio clips.
Earlier this month Amazon rolled out changes to let users of its voice assistant opt out of human review of their recordings. The change followed revelations from Bloomberg and others about an Amazon team consisting of thousands of people who listen to Alexa voice recordings as part of a program designed to improve the company’s voice assistant.
Apple made a similar announcement after the Guardian reported that contractors reviewing Siri recordings for quality control “regularly hear confidential medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex.” Apple says it’s working on a feature to let Siri users opt out of the human review, and says it has suspended the program in the meantime.
Along the same lines, Google said it “paused” human review of Google Assistant recordings after a contractor leaked more than 1,000 recordings to VRT News in Belgium.
Microsoft allows users to delete their audio recordings through an online tool. However, a Microsoft spokesperson told Motherboard that for now the company will continue to let humans listen in.
Editor’s Note: Story updated with comment from Microsoft.