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Last Updated : Aug 09, 2019 04:26 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Microsoft contractors hearing user conversations from Skype, Cortana: Report

The report noted that Skype's real-time translation service does use artificial intelligence to carry out the job, but it also uses human inputs to improve the algorithms and the quality of the final translation.

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Contractors hired by Microsoft have been listening in on conversations taking place on Skype and voice commands sent to Cortana, according to a report by Vice’ Motherboard.

The report follows another instance where reports that employees of Amazon were eavesdropping on conversations with its home assistant Alexa came to surface.

The report noted that Skype's real-time translation service does use artificial intelligence to carry out the job, but it also uses human inputs to improve the algorithms and the quality of the final translation.

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The publication got access to various audio snippets that are allegedly cached for monitoring and are seemingly heard by third-party contractors.  "The fact that I can even share some of this with you shows how lax things are in terms of protecting user data," stated a contractor who spoke to Motherboard.

The contractor also said that he may have heard full addresses spoken to Cortana.

Also read: The future seems to be AI driven, but at the cost of ethical and technical issues 

Some of the audio conversations inspected by Motherboard were on intimate and personal matters ranging from relationships to weight loss concerns.

Microsoft, in response to the piece, stated that it has procedures to protect users’ privacy by de-identifying data. The contractors also sign non-disclosure agreements to meet privacy standards established as per the law.

The company maintains that any analysis of audio is in order to improve quality of the service. The report however, noted that the privacy policy doesn’t make it clear whether the conversations will be heard by humans or algorithms.

The report noted that technological concerns quickly convert to moral ones when human intervention is required to improve algorithms.

The contractor also spoke about clearer privacy policies, adding, "… if Microsoft users were aware that random people sitting at home in their pajamas who could be joking online with friends about the stuff they just heard, they wouldn't like that."

Previously, reports of employees eavesdropping on conversations that users had with virtual assistants namely, Apple’ Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google assistant have also come out.

While more stringent privacy policies are awaited, artificial intelligence and machine learning have their own ethical challenges.

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First Published on Aug 9, 2019 03:49 pm
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