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Microsoft employees could be listening to your Skype calls

Expert Reviews logo Expert Reviews 08/08/2019 Emma Sims
a person using a laptop: Microsoft employees could be listening to your Skype calls © Expert Reviews Microsoft employees could be listening to your Skype calls

Microsoft employees are able to listen to Skype and Cortana users’ conversations, an investigation from Motherboard has found. Workers for Bill Gates’ empire are sometimes permitted access to Skype calls in order to manually review the platform’s translation software.

Microsoft was quick to point out that this is not in breach of its privacy policy, which seeks users’ permission before listening to their calls to optimise the service. However, critics have pointed out that Skype’s terms and conditions don’t explicitly state that a human employee could be listening to the calls as opposed to, for example, an AI system.

The findings have provoked privacy concerns, with Motherboard disclosing that the cache of audio files it obtained were of a personal nature, with users speaking intimately to friends and family about relationship problems and self-image. The clips it was made privy to typically lasted between five and ten seconds, although a Microsoft contractor revealed they could be longer.

READ NEXT: Amazon users can now stop Amazon employees listening to their recordings

a woman sitting at a table using a laptop © Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

For its part, Microsoft is adamant that its privacy policy has not been breached. "Microsoft gets customers' permission before collecting and using their voice data," a spokesperson said.

"We also put in place several procedures designed to prioritise 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."

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Motherboard also suggested that Microsoft employees could listen to users speaking to Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant – something that landed Amazon in hot water recently. Just last week the e-tailer introduced an option to “opt out” of Alexa’s manual review, after it was widely reported that its employees had access to audio clips via the device.

As for whether pressure mounts on Microsoft to launch a similar opt-out service, only time will tell. In the meantime, if you’re harbouring any state secrets, you might not want to disclose them via Skype lest an eager-eared whistleblower is optimising the translation tool on your line. You have been warned.


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