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Microsoft lets contractors’ employees listen to audio recordings of Skype calls. These are specifically conversations that are translated with the Translate service. Also, voice commands to the intelligent voice service Cortana are listened to by human employees of the tech giant.

Skype’s website does state that the company can analyse audio or telephone conversations that a user wants to translate in order to improve the services of the platform. However, it does not say that this can be done by people.

Motherboard discovered that this does happen after an employee submitted a cache of internal documents, screenshots and audio recordings to the website. The fact that I can share some of this with you shows how lax things are when it comes to protecting user data, according to the employee, who wants to remain anonymous.

Listening to recordings

Analyzing recordings of services that use artificial intelligence is common in the industry. Speech assistant creators – including Google, Apple and Amazon – do the same to improve artificial intelligence.

People can also listen to the recordings at these companies, although Google and Apple have recently stopped their programs following criticism from users and privacy advocates. So it turns out that voice commands to Cortana, Microsoft’s voice assistant, are also listened to by people.

In addition, translated Skype conversations are also listened to. This service appeared in 2015 and translates real-time audio during telephone and video calls. The product uses artificial intelligence for this. People also do the tasks of artificial intelligence, to improve the algorithm.


There are also intimate conversations of people who talk to loved ones. This way Motherboard could listen to conversations about losing weight and relationship problems. The audio recordings are usually between five and ten seconds long, but can also be longer according to the source.

According to Motherboard there is a FAQ for Skype Translator. It says that Skype collects and uses the conversation to improve Microsoft’s products and services, but not that there are people listening to the recordings.

A Microsoft spokesperson says that the company tries to be as transparent as possible about the collection and use of voice data, and that it asks users for permission to do so. However, the spokesperson does not speak about people listening to the audio. He does make it clear, however, that the data will be made anonymous.

This news article was automatically translated from Dutch to give Techzine.eu a head start. All news articles after September 1, 2019 are written in native English and NOT translated. All our background stories are written in native English as well. For more information read our launch article.