Microsoft won’t shift on AI recordings policy

Like a number of big technology companies, Microsoft recently admitted that humans sometimes hear your sensitive voice conversations, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to stop. Rather than abandoning the use of human contractors to improve its AI accuracy, the company has simply decided to be more transparent about it.

Earlier this month, Microsoft was found sharing conversations with its Skype Translator product, an AI-powered system that translates in near real-time between 10 languages. It also let contractors listen to audio from user conversations with its Cortana voice assistant, becoming the latest in a series of companies embarrassed by similar revelations.

Whereas other companies have made a cursory effort to suspend the sharing of voice from AI technology, Microsoft has instead just updated its privacy policy. It added a new section to the policy this week:

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.

The company also updated its Skype Translator Privacy FAQ, adding the following text clarifying an existing paragraph explaining how it analyzed transcripts:

This may include transcription of audio recordings by Microsoft employees and vendors, subject to procedures designed to protect ’ 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.

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