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Microsoft contractors listen to some Skype calls and Cortana commands

Critics say the company should be using AI instead.

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fizkes via Getty Images

Microsoft is the latest company charged with listening to its users calls and voice commands. A report by Vice found that contractors are listening to bits of conversations collected through Skype's translation service. Some contractors are also listening to voice commands spoken to Cortana.

This might sound familiar, as Amazon, Apple and Google have all been found to listen to voice assistant queries. Apple recently suspended its program that had people listen to conversations with Siri, and Amazon now lets users opt-out of the program that let people review your Alexa recordings.

At this point, it shouldn't be entirely shocking that tech companies use human moderators to listen to voice commands and translations. The practice is meant to check systems' accuracy and correct errors. In the Skype FAQs, Microsoft makes it clear that it collects and uses conversations to improve products and services. But some critics charge that conversations should be reviewed by AI, not humans.

In a statement provided to Vice, Microsoft said: "We strive to be transparent about our collection and use of voice data to ensure customers can make informed choices about when and how their voice data is used. Microsoft gets customers' permission before collecting and using their voice data."

At this point, what might be most surprising isn't that companies are using contractors to listen to conversations, but that so many contractors are leaking the recordings and transcribed documents. Still, we'll see if Microsoft suspends this program or offers an opt-out, as Apple and Amazon have done.

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