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Microsoft’s Cortana, as depicted in a “Halo” game. (Microsoft Photo)

Microsoft contractors listen to certain types of Skype calls and Cortana recordings, Motherboard reported on Wednesday. The discovery adds to growing consumer unease about tech employees listening to conversations thought to be private.

The latest: Motherboard’s reporting reveals contractors for Microsoft review conversations conducted using Skype’s translation service to improve the quality of the tool. Humans are also reviewing voice commands that users speak to Cortana, according to the report. An anonymous contractor told the tech news site that conversations have included “phone sex,” addresses, and other sensitive information. Skype did notify people using the service that their conversations might be reviewed but did not say that oversight would be conducted by humans, Motherboard noted.

Microsoft’s perspective: Here’s a statement Microsoft sent to GeekWire:

“Microsoft collects voice data to provide and improve voice-enabled services like search, voice commands, dictation or translation services. We strive to be transparent about our collection and use of voice data to ensure customers can make informed choices about when and how their voice data is used. Microsoft gets customers’ permission before collecting and using their voice data. We also put in place several procedures designed to prioritize users’ privacy before sharing this data with our vendors, including de-identifying data, requiring non-disclosure agreements with vendors and their employees, and requiring that vendors meet the high privacy standards set out in European law. We continue to review the way we handle voice data to ensure we make options as clear as possible to customers and provide strong privacy protections.” – a Microsoft spokesperson

Background: Revelations that humans are reviewing conversations recorded by smart speakers and other services have ignited backlash and prompted action by tech companies. Amazon last week rolled out a new feature that allows customers to opt-out of human review of their voice recordings from Alexa devices. Apple and Google suspended human review of recordings taken by their virtual assistants.

Editor’s note: Story updated with comment from Microsoft. 

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