Contractors Listening to Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, & Skype Audio – Apple & Google Suspend Their Programs But Microsoft Refuses to Back Down

Aug 15, 2019
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Last month, a damning investigative report from The Guardian revealed that human contractors were reviewing Siri recordings for Apple, including sensitive personal information that is often picked up by “accidental activations” of Siri. This ultimately led to revelations that all tech giants, including Amazon, Google, and Microsoft had similar programs.

In the European Union, Google has temporarily suspended its program where humans listen to and transcribe audio recorded by Google Assistant after a contractor leaked over 1,000 audio clips to the media. The suspension isn’t global as the company seems to be taking steps to avoid backlash in the EU. Apple has also put a halt to its program, considering to offer an opt out option with a future update.

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While these tech companies aren’t perfect and are only appearing to be making some amends after being caught, Microsoft is coming off as worse with its refusal to offer any fixes or introduce a way for users to opt out. The Windows maker was tangled in the similar scandal after reports revealed that outsourced contractors were listening to audio from Skype Translate and Cortana.

Microsoft updates its privacy policy admitting humans listening to recordings

“The fact that I can even share some of this with you shows how lax things are in terms of protecting user data,” the Microsoft contractor who sent the files to Motherboard said. While Microsoft isn’t the only company being “lax” with user data, it certainly is the first one to update its terms and conditions to include “human analysis” to avoid any future troubles. Since no one actually reads those documents, the company will have a solid pathway to keep doing things the way it is currently doing.

A report from Motherboard revealed these changes to the privacy policy where Microsoft explicitly states that human employees or contractors may listen to Cortana and Skype Translator recordings.

“Our processing of personal data for these purposes includes both automated and manual (human) methods of processing,” the new privacy policy reads. Skype Translator’s FAQs add.

“This may include transcription of audio recordings by Microsoft employees and vendors, subject to procedures designed to protect users’ privacy, including taking steps to de-identify data, requiring non-disclosure agreements with vendors and their employees, and requiring that vendors meet the high privacy standards set out in European law and elsewhere.”

The company has said in a statement that it “realized, based on questions raised recently, that we could do a better job specifying that humans sometimes review this content.” While others have suspended their use of human transcribers to hopefully look for better solutions and implement stronger policies to safeguard user data, Microsoft says it will continue to use them but will “examine further steps we might be able to take.”

Users can delete audio files through the Privacy Dashboard, however, there doesn’t seem to be a way to opt out of getting recorded.

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