Microsoft says humans will still transcribe Cortana and Skype audio

Apple, Google and Facebook all paused similar practices.

Just like seemingly every other major tech company with a voice assistant or voice chat service, it emerged that Microsoft contractors were listening to Skype and Cortana recordings. Apple, Google and Facebook have temporarily halted similar efforts, and Amazon lets users opt out of having Alexa conversations reviewed by humans. But Microsoft will continue the practice for the time being despite possible privacy concerns.

The company amended its privacy policy and other pages to make it clear human workers are listening to recorded conversations and commands to improve the services. "We realized, based on questions raised recently, that we could do a better job specifying that humans sometimes review this content," a Microsoft spokesperson told Motherboard, which spotted the policy tweaks.

"Our processing of personal data for these purposes includes both automated and manual (human) methods of processing," the updated policy reads. Before the change, it wasn't clear from the policy or Skype Translator FAQ that people were listening in -- Skype only records voice conversations when translation features are enabled.

The company states on several pages that it uses voice data and recordings to improve speech recognition, translation, intent understanding and more across Microsoft products and services. "This may include transcription of audio recordings by Microsoft employees and vendors, subject to procedures designed to prioritize users' privacy, including taking steps to de-identify data, requiring non-disclosure agreements with vendors and their employees, and requiring that vendors meet the high privacy standards set out in European law and elsewhere," according to identical language on the Skype Translator FAQ, Cortana's support section and a Microsoft privacy page.

While Microsoft allows users to delete audio recordings it makes of them through the privacy dashboard, it could have been more transparent from the outset as to what it was doing with that data. Apple plans to let Siri users opt out of the recordings soon, but it's unclear whether Microsoft will follow suit.

This article contains affiliate links; if you click such a link and make a purchase, we may earn a commission.