Microsoft Admits Humans Listen to Skype and Cortana in Privacy Policy Update

The change comes after Motherboard found that Microsoft hired contractors to listen to some Skype phone calls.
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Image: Akio Kon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Microsoft has updated its privacy policy and other online pages to explicitly state that human employees or contractors may listen to recordings captured by the company's Cortana and Skype Translator products.

The move comes after Motherboard found contractors were listening to audio from both services, including sensitive and personal conversations of Microsoft customers, based on a cache of leaked documents, screenshots, and audio recordings. Apple, Google, and most recently Facebook have suspended their own use of human workers for each of their respective products.


"We realized, based on questions raised recently, that we could do a better job specifying that humans sometimes review this content," a Microsoft spokesperson told Motherboard in an emailed statement on Tuesday.

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Whereas before neither Microsoft's privacy policy or the Skype Translator FAQ made it clear that humans may listen to customer's captured audio in order to improve the service, a stance that privacy experts criticized, Microsoft has updated both pages and others on its website.

"Our processing of personal data for these purposes includes both automated and manual (human) methods of processing," the company's privacy policy now reads.

While explaining how conversations made using Skype Translator are collected and used, the product's FAQ now reads, "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." A page about Cortana now contains an identical paragraph, as does a Microsoft support page.

Microsoft does allow users to delete audio recordings made of them with a dedicated online tool.

While other tech giants have suspended their use of human transcribers, Microsoft says it will keep using them, for now.

"We’ve updated our privacy statement and product FAQs to add greater clarity and will continue to examine further steps we might be able to take," the spokesperson added.

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