Look, this is getting old. Just assume that everyone one is listening to you fart, copulate and sing in the shower, all the damn time. My former co-worker and professional tall person, David Murphy, took the time today to rap about Microsoft humping up on top of the digital surveillance dog-pile. He points out that, according to Vice, an unnamed Microsoft contractor has spilled the beans on the fact that Microsoft has been holding on to five to ten-second snippets of folks using Skype's translation functionality to yammer on with on another. Did I mention that he provided samples of the audio clips? There's totally samples of the audio clips. Apparently, Microsoft's having their contractors listen in on the clips to improve on Skype's translation chops.
When confronted about their snooping, Microsoft assured Vice's investigator that the snippets were fired over to the company's contractors via a secure web portal, with all identifying data removed from the recordings.
As David points out, there's no way to keep Microsoft from doing this. Worse than this, the company, oh-so greasily, completely neglects to mention that underpaid humans are listening on what you say during your Skype calls.
...Microsoft doesn’t indicate in its FAQ that your speech is being analyzed by real people. In fact, this description almost implies that it’s a fully mechanical process, which it is not—nor could it be, since a machine wouldn’t be able to pick the correct translation. The entire point is that a human being has to train the system to get better.
I also didn’t see any settings within the iOS Skype app that would let you opt out of this “improvement” process, but it’s possible that Microsoft will change this approach going forward. It would be great to have an opt-out switch or, even better, an opt-in switch for permitting analyses of voice data.
David's Lifehacker post goes on to chat up the fact that when she's not busy cracking wise with Halo's Master Chief, Cortana, Microsoft's digital has the same eavesdropping problem. The good news is that, you can keep the service from listening to you yap by tweaking a few settings in Windows 10. The bad news is that doing so more or less renders Cortana useless.
Smoke signals and bonded couriers are starting to look pretty damn sexy, right about now.
Image via Wikipedia Commons