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Microsoft allows human review of translated Skype calls and exchanges with AI assistant Cortana by third-party contractors. The company limits the access to voice data to “approved vendors” who are asked to maintain confidentiality, comply with applicable laws, and accept non-disclosure requirements. Vendors and their employees can only access these voice samples, which don’t include user or device IDs, through a secure Microsoft-controlled portal. A Microsoft spokesperson issued a statement that gave details on the process without explicitly confirming or denying the human review component.

“Microsoft collects voice data to provide and improve voice-enabled services like search, voice commands, dictation, or translation services,” the spokesperson told VentureBeat. “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.”

Translator in Skype and Cortana users give opt-in consent to collect and use voice data. The company lets users view and delete audio data tied to their Microsoft account via a privacy dashboard.

The news was first reported by Motherboard today after the news outlet obtained recordings from a third-party reviewer who heard calls that included phone sex, full address, and pornography search queries. The reviewer would go on to share their concern about “how lax things are in terms of protecting user data.” Skype users are notified their voice data may be collected, but not that it may be reviewed by people.

Skype calls are recorded when the app’s AI-enabled translator service is used, and like other popular voice assistants, Cortana records each interaction as a way to improve performance of its conversational AI.

News of how Microsoft treats voice data comes days after Amazon introduced a way to turn off human review in the Alexa app.

Last week, Google and Apple pledged to suspend human review of voice recordings by third-party contractors following backlash from Google Assistant and Siri users. See this article for instructions on how to delete voice recordings from Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, or Samsung’s Bixby.


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