2019 was the "I Told You So" year for privacy advocates and voice assistants: the year in which every company that wanted you to trust them to put an always-on mic in the most intimate places in your home was revealed to have allowed thousands of low-waged contractors to listen in on millions of clips, many of them accidentally recorded: first it was Amazon (and again!), then Google, then Apple, then Microsoft.
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Lots of people are fine with allowing a helpful wiretap into their lives. I am not one of them. None of them. So, when I heard that Cortana was being sent out to pasture by Microsoft, I was pretty excited. The dismantling of surveillance apparatus that’s slimed its way into our daily lives always leaves me feeling a little frisky.
That’s according to a support article Microsoft posted to several regional markets this week, though a spokesperson later clarified to Gizmodo that only users in the following areas can expect to say goodbye to the voice assistant: Great Britain, Australia, Germany, Mexico, China, Spain, Canada, and India. Despite dropping the app in these regions, Cortana itself remains “an integral part” of the company’s business model to incorporate “conversational computing and productivity” into its products according to the spokesperson, so Microsoft doesn’t appear to be closing the coffin on it entirely.
According to Gizmodo, at least in North America, we’ll have to put up with the company’s post-Clippy assistant on our smartphones until January 31, 2020.
Cortana’s death has been a long time coming. Last year, Microsoft’s CEO admitted that the company’s virtual assistant could keep up with the likes of Alexa or Siri.
Score one for those of us who don’t want our gadgets listening in on us. I can only hope that Halo’s Master Chief will be able to quickly deal with the loss of his long-term companion and move on with his life.
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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.
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...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.
This week, Keep Internet Devices Safe Act was gutted by the Illinois senate: it would have allowed people sue manufacturers if they determined that a device had engaged in remote recording without notifying its owner.
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