Microsoft Contractors Found Listening to Some Audio Calls When Skype Translator Feature is Active

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Microsoft contractors are listening to conversations between users on Skype who use its translation feature, according to Motherboard. This is done only if users are performing a translation function in Skype and not during any other typical Skype voice or video call.


The information gathered includes Skype audio regarding intimate conversations between couples and more. The data also suggests that Microsoft contractors listen to voice commands spoken to Cortana, the company's smart voice assistant. The information seen by Microsoft contractors is anonymized and doesn't contain any user identifiable information.

These contractors (who mostly work from home) do manual translations of Skype audio conversations, sent by Microsoft along with a series of approximate translations generated by Skype's AI program. The contractor has to select the most accurate translation or provide their own, and they send the information back to Microsoft.

Microsoft warns users that it analyzes audio of translated calls in Skype to improve its services, but it does not mention that some of the analysis will be done by humans. The translation feature lets users perform real-time audio translations during phone and video calls, powered by artificial intelligence.
"The fact that I can even share some of this with you shows how lax things are in terms of protecting user data," a Microsoft contractor who provided the cache of files to Motherboard, said.

The contractor said, "I generally feel like that while we do not have access to user identifiable information, that if Microsoft users were aware that random people sitting at home in their pajamas who could be joking online with friends about the stuff they just heard that they wouldn't like that."
According to Microsoft, the company's terminology on its Skype translator feature and on Cortana are clear and straightforward in how it uses voice data to improve each service. "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," the company said.

Microsoft also said that the audio data sent to contractors is through a secure online portal, and that it ensures any identifying information (like the user's name or device identification numbers) are removed. Despite all of this, Microsoft's terminology still doesn't mention that human workers might listen to your Skype translation conversations, or Cortana commands.

The Skype story from Motherboard emerges today following previous articles centered on human workers listening to Siri recordings at Apple and Google Assistant recordings at Google. Following these reports, Apple suspended its own program wherein contractors listened to anonymized Siri recordings for quality control purposes.

Article Link: Microsoft Contractors Found Listening to Some Audio Calls When Skype Translator Feature is Active
 

Nugget

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This is done only if users are performing a translation function in Skype and not during any other typical Skype voice or video call . . . The information gathered includes Skype audio regarding intimate conversations between couples and more.
Intimate conversations between couples who don't speak the same language and rely on Skype translation services to communicate? Color me skeptical. The reporting on this seems a bit overblown and drama-seeking to me.
 

macnchiefs

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Welp, I'm pretty sure this has gone full circle now... are there any other companies out there that are big enough to hire contractors to do this kind of analysis? If so it's best to just assume they use contractors at this point.
 

ipponrg

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Welp, I'm pretty sure this has gone full circle now... are there any other companies out there that are big enough to hire contractors to do this kind of analysis? If so it's best to just assume they use contractors at this point.
Contractors are easier to hire and to let go. In addition, 1st party companies don't have to pay them benefits.
 
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heov

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My first reaction "People still use Skype?":eek:

:):)
Of course they do. it might be the most popular... What else are they going to use for personal video calls? Duo lol? Whatsapp? FaceTime is only Apple to Apple, which is a small portion of the worldwide market. The fact that Skype can do real time translations is an example on why people would even use Skype! It's so feature rich.
 
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BGPL

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Great, an illegal wiretap. What if they hear about a plot to injury and/or kill others? Do they ignore or tell someone about it.
 

BeforeTheMeds

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Of course they do. it might be the most popular... What else are they going to use for personal video calls? Duo lol? Whatsapp? FaceTime is only Apple to Apple, which is a small portion of the worldwide market. The fact that Skype can do real time translations is an example on why people would even use Skype! It's so feature rich.

Yes, while it’s widely used in some place in Latin America at least WhatsApp dominates big time. The majority of the world uses free services. China uses something else. I doubt Skype is the most popular, us maybe.
 

Relentless Power

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Privacy is an illusion, everything is public now.
I’d disagree to an extent. Privacy is valued by some who know how to manage it based on what that individual participates in (i.e Social media being the main). The only company I actually trust with my privacy/credentials, would be Apple. Because that’s one of their main aspirations/goals, is the consumers privacy.
 
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keysofanxiety

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Great, an illegal wiretap. What if they hear about a plot to injury and/or kill others? Do they ignore or tell someone about it.
You’re right. I frequently discuss my evil killer plans over Skype audio with somebody who speaks in a different language that I can’t understand. This news has made me rethink my otherwise inconspicuous behaviour.
 

Dkka1

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I’d disagree to an extent. Privacy is valued by some who know how to manage it based on what that individual participates in (i.e Social media being the main). The only company I actually trust with my privacy/credentials, would be Apple. Because that’s one of their main aspirations, is the consumers privacy.
You mean one of their marketing mottos.

Jesus, how can you be so naive.
 
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garylapointe

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Microsoft warns users that it analyzes audio of translated calls in Skype to improve its services, but it does not mention that some of the analysis will be done by humans.
This seems pretty obvious. Without humans, how else would you check to see if the software is translating it properly?

That said, they could just send clips of words and translations to confirm they translated them properly and not the whole conversation (and then when a mistake is found, it could point back to the original to see the context and how that could help with the computer predicting the correct word).
 

ikramerica

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I'm always surprised that people are surprised by this. If recorded audio is being processed and used to improve a service like a translator, personal assistant, etc. of course there's a group of employees that can hear it.
Unvetted contractor employees sitting at home in pajamas? Or well paid NDA MS employees working in a secure office?

Im always annoyed that despite the massive payrolls of MS, Apple, Google, etc that these privacy critical activities are outsourced to sketchy 3rd parties in foreign lands. Now granted there may be an issue of not having the right foreignlanguage assets in house, but you can hire them directly if you care about privacy.
 

Baymowe335

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Seems industry standard now, unfortunately.

I am an Apple and big business defender, but come on.

If this has to be done, hire the people directly as employees and subject them to massive oversight.
 

crcuilla

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This seems pretty obvious. Without humans, how else would you check to see if the software is translating it properly?

That said, they could just send clips of words and translations to confirm they translated them properly and not the whole conversation (and then when a mistake is found, it could point back to the original to see the context and how that could help with the computer predicting the correct word).
Except that good language translation involves more than just a word for word substitution.
 

femike

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If they can listen to some, they can listen to all, with the US gov agencies having complete access.
 
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Morgenland

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Skype was one of the PRISM/NSA's most eager messengers. Have we all forgotten?
Now P2P is consequently also a thing of the past.
https://www.lifewire.com/skype-changes-from-p2p-3426522
[doublepost=1565191390][/doublepost]
Unvetted contractor employees sitting at home in pajamas? Or well paid NDA MS employees working in a secure office?

Im always annoyed that despite the massive payrolls of MS, Apple, Google, etc that these privacy critical activities are outsourced to sketchy 3rd parties in foreign lands. Now granted there may be an issue of not having the right foreignlanguage assets in house, but you can hire them directly if you care about privacy.
Why do you fantasize about "foreign lands"?
Aren't you strong enough to face reality?

Internet and global economy make this world one school class. However, the stupid wherever never notice.
 
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Gasu E.

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Im always annoyed that despite the massive payrolls of MS, Apple, Google, etc that these privacy critical activities are outsourced to sketchy 3rd parties in foreign lands. Now granted there may be an issue of not having the right foreignlanguage assets in house, but you can hire them directly if you care about privacy.
If this post isn't sarcasm, you have a serious perspective problem. If an international conversation takes place in two different languages, and connects two different countries, then which side is the "foreign" one? Friend, to 99% of the world, YOU would be the foreigner.
 
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