At this point, if you don’t want strangers to listen to recordings from your devices, it’s looking like you may just have to go off the grid. On Thursday, Microsoft became the latest tech giant to admit it uses human contractors to review its users’ audio. So in case you’ve lost track by now, that list also includes Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google.
The news comes via a quiet update to Microsoft’s online privacy statement, which slips in a new paragraph regarding how the company uses personal data. You can read the whole thing below, but the most important bit comes in the first sentence: Microsoft relies on “both automated and manual (human) methods of processing” when it comes to using your voice data to help improve its AI. The full statement reads:
“Our processing of personal data for these purposes includes both automated and manual (human) methods of processing. Our automated methods often are related to and supported by our manual methods. For example, our automated methods include artificial intelligence (AI), which we think of as a set of technologies that enable computers to perceive, learn, reason, and assist in decision-making to solve problems in ways that are similar to what people do. To build, train, and improve the accuracy of our automated methods of processing (including AI), we manually review some of the predictions and inferences produced by the automated methods against the underlying data from which the predictions and inferences were made. For example, we manually review short snippets of a small sampling of voice data we have taken steps to de-identify to improve our speech services, such as recognition and translation.”
Company pages for Skype Translator, Cortana, and Microsoft Support now also contain similar disclosures, Motherboard spotted Thursday, a change that comes after the outlet’s report last week found Microsoft employed contractors to review audio recordings from its devices and apps without disclosing this fact to users.
Apple, Facebook, and Google have all suspended or partially suspended their use of contractors after being called out for the practice, and Amazon now allows users to decline permissions for human review of their audio recordings.
But apparently, Microsoft is saying screw that noise. The company told Motherboard it will “continue to examine further steps we might be able to take” regarding human review, a.k.a. can’t stop, won’t stop.
Gizmodo reached out to Microsoft to confirm this and did not receive an immediate response. However, according to a similarly worded company statement sent to TechCrunch, Microsoft is “always looking to improve transparency” and “will continue to examine further opportunities to improve.”
In short, strangers are likely still going to be listening to some of your Skype and Cortana recordings, but at least you know about it now, right? Which makes it totally less creepy.