Bottom line: I've said it before but it bears repeating: when dealing with a device with a microphone (or any communications platform, for that matter), any reasonable expectation of privacy should be tossed out the window. The ability for someone, somewhere to be listening - either nefariously or totally innocently - is always a possibility as we are continually reminded of.
Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri aren’t the only popular apps guilty of sharing voice recordings with contractors for the sake of quality control. According to a recent report from Motherboard, humans are also listening to Skype calls – specifically, those made when the app’s translation feature is active.
Motherboard obtained what it calls a cache of internal documents, audio recordings and screenshots indicating that contractors working for Microsoft are listening to conversations that take place using the translation feature.
Motherboard also claims it has obtained audio indicating contractors are additionally listening to voice commands issued to Cortana, Microsoft’s voice assistant.
Audio heard by the publication includes recordings of people talking intimately to each other and discussing things like weight loss and even relationship issues. “Some stuff I've heard could clearly be described as phone sex,” a Microsoft contractor said.
“I've heard people entering full addresses in Cortana commands, or asking Cortana to provide search returns on pornography queries. While I don't know exactly what one could do with this information, it seems odd to me that it isn't being handled in a more controlled environment,” the contractor added.
Most recordings obtained by the publication are short, lasting between five and 10 seconds, although the source – a Microsoft contractor – said other snippets can be longer.
An FAQ for Skype Translator has the following to say on the matter:
When you use Skype’s translation features, Skype collects and uses your conversation to help improve Microsoft products and services. To help the translation and speech recognition technology learn and grow, sentences and automatic transcripts are analyzed and any corrections are entered into our system, to build more performant services.
Microsoft, per Motherboard, said audio data is only available to contractors via a secure online portal, adding that it takes steps to remove personally identifiable information. Regardless, it’s unnerving (although not all that surprising) that work-from-home contractors are “sitting at home in their pajamas” listening to your conversations.