Employees of a Microsoft subcontractor listen to Skype conversations for Microsoft's voice assistant Cortana and the translation service Skype Translate, Motherboard writes on Wednesday on the basis of internal documents, screenshots and audio recordings of an anonymous whistleblower.
In the recordings that Motherboard listened to, personal conversations from Skype users can be heard. These were short fragments of between five and ten seconds, although the whistleblower said that they had also listened to longer fragments.
The employees of Microsoft's subcontractor will hear an audio clip with a translation suggestion. They must then check the translation and correct it if necessary.
The information is not directly linked to a Skype or Cortana user, but the audio fragments can still contain sensitive information. The whistleblower describes at Motherboard having heard addresses or searches for porn.
Microsoft informs Motherboard in a statement that the data is collected to "offer and improve" its own services. The company also writes that users authorize the collection and use of voice recordings.
It is unclear which part of all audio recordings from Skype and Cortana ends up with the employees.
Microsoft not transparent about deployment
Microsoft has never made it explicitly clear to users that others can eventually hear the Skype and Cortana recordings. The company only says that voting data is used to improve the service, without mentioning that people are involved.
Earlier, Amazon, Google and Apple were already under fire because these companies also failed to report that the recordings of voice assistants are being analyzed by people.
Google Assistant and Siri recordings of Dutch users were also listened to for analysis, VRT NWS and NU.nl revealed earlier.
Skype Translate with audio does not work in Dutch. The languages that are supported include English, French, German, Spanish, Arabic and Hindi. Microsoft's voice assistant Cortana is not available in Dutch.