Your Skype Translator calls may be heard by humans
Skype voice Translator is marketed by Microsoft in glowing terms as the machine learning (ML) “language translator that keeps getting smarter.”
Its reputation for accurately translating in near real time between ten languages (English, Spanish, French, German, Mandarin Chinese, Italian, Portuguese, Arabic, and Russian) is strong thanks, it might reasonably be assumed, to all that machine learning going on in the background.
Except that a Motherboard story quoting an unnamed Skype insider has claimed that the reason it’s so good is really because it uses human beings to help the system’s translations along by listening to snippets of real calls.
The problem? While Microsoft makes clear that audio captured using this system might be analysed, it doesn’t make clear that this is being done by people as well as machines.
Machines are just software and in their current state of development are (we hope) unlikely to have any personal opinions on what they listen to. Humans, meanwhile, introduce a very different set of possibilities.
Last week, Google and Apple had to suspend contractor access to voice commands captured by Siri and Google Assistant after an outcry at the privacy implications of allowing strangers to listen to recordings of personal audio.
Earlier this week, Amazon found itself “in discussion” with the EU’s Luxembourg privacy regulator over possible privacy implications from access to Alexa voice recordings.
Suddenly, big tech companies are struggling to explain what’s really going on without sounding as if they’re trying to explain away privacy concerns which simply makes people even more suspicious.