Microsoft contractors have listened to voice recordings made by owners of its Xbox One console, according to Motherboard. Like Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple, which have all been charged with secretly listening to private recordings, Microsoft listened in on audio recordings from Cortana (on Windows) and listened to Skype calls when people users the app’s language translation feature.
Motherboard spoke to several Microsoft contractors who said they were hired by the company to review Xbox and Cortana voice commands to improve its services and voice recognition. Many of these Xbox recordings were intentional, with users commanding the Xbox One to perform a certain action, but others were conversations that should have never been recorded and during which the command was clearly not given.
Microsoft contractors listen to your audio clips
As details of the scope of violations of privacy emerge, widespread distrust has turned to outrage, and tech companies are being forced to allay public concerns.
Earlier this month Apple took the decision to suspend a Siri program that allows workers to listen to audio recordings for quality control purposes.
Google and Amazon have both taken measures to make their policies on human reviews of voice assistant audio clearer. Amazon has now added a toggle that will allow Alexa users to opt-out of potentially having their voice recordings and/or recorded message transcripts reviewed by human workers.
Following Apple’s footsteps, Google announced it has suspended its policy of reviewing Google Assistant audio. The company suspended the practice across the EU on July 10 after a report published by Belgian broadcaster VRT NWS revealed how Google employees listen to audio recordings by the company’s Google Home smart speakers and the Google Assistant app.
According to VRT NEWS, gained access to more than a thousand audio excerpts recorded by Google Assistant in Belgium and the Netherlands.
Last week, Facebook came under fresh scrutiny for paying hundreds of outside contractors to transcribe audio recordings from users of its services. To counter the fresh allegation by making best use of its PR, Facebook announced it will open five pop-up cafes across London to give people a privacy check-up along with a cup of coffee.
What about privacy?
All tech companies hire language reviewers to listen to your conversations to improve their voice-enabled technology and services. Most of these companies claim to anonymize the source. For instance, Google distorts audio recordings to disguise the user’s voice, while Apple removes all identifiable information.
However, VRT NWS revealed, 153 of the 1,000 audio files it listened to “were conversations that should never have been recorded and during which the command ‘OK Google’ was clearly not given.” In many cases, the soundbites contained personally identifiable information which made it easier for VRT NWS to reach out to the people involved and make them listen to their own voices. These people confirmed that the recordings contained their voices.