skype calls listening

How would you react if you are told that all your Skype call conversations are being heard by unknown people sitting somewhere remotely?

After numerous similar revelations concerning almost all the big tech companies, it is now Microsoft’s turn in the spotlight. It has been revealed that Microsoft contractors have been listening to the private conversations of the users conducted through the app’s translation service. Apparently, a whistleblower provided Motherboard, one of the leading tech journal, a list of internal documents, screenshots and audio recordings for the same. The audio obtained by Motherboard are merely snippets, lasting anywhere between 5 to 10 seconds. It contains conversations from people ranging from intimacy to discussing personal issues. Let us look at this issue in a little more detail.

What is the Skype Translator Service?

The translator is a service released by skype which performs near real-time audio translation for its users during phone and video calls. It uses AI to do the same, with Skype working on this service for more than a decade prior to its launch. However, it does not explicitly list that the audio of their conversations would be used the way it is. In their FAQ, it is mentioned that Skype will ‘collect and use’ the conversation for the betterment of its products and services. A Microsoft spokesperson even pointed this fact out while responding to Motherboard. But nowhere is it written that these conversations will be analysed in the end by humans.

What Does A Contractor Do?

A contractor is provided with snippets of audio to transcribe. For that audio, the person is provided with a set of translations generated by skype. It is then up to them to choose the best translation out of the options which fit the audio. If an appropriate translation is not present, they have to provide one themselves. The audio is then treated as confidential information by Microsoft.

The whistleblower, a similar contractor himself, had this to say regarding the issue:-

” Some stuff I’ve heard could clearly be described as phone sex. I’ve heard people entering full addresses in Cortana commands, or asking Cortana to provide search returns on pornography queries.”

What Next for Microsoft?

It is not the first time when a tech company is found guilty of invading users’ privacy. Amazon and Google both were recently accused of listening to private conversations of Alexa and Google Home users. It also led some of them to cough up huge fine for it as well.

Microsoft will have to take the path previously trodden by the likes of Apple and Google. Both the tech giants have had to suspend the human reviews of the voice recordings of their specific voice assistants or products.

With the laws promoting privacy becoming stricter, will it make the big companies abide by them? That is one question for the future.

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