Microsoft's privacy policy admits contractors listen to Cortana, Skype recordings

There's no way to opt out, for now

Credit: Dreamstime

Microsoft’s updated privacy policy acknowledges that the company is allowing humans to listen to recordings made by Cortana and other speech services, and the company has not yet allowed customers to opt out.

Microsoft’s privacy issues follow similar problems with Google’s Assistant as well as Apple, where contractors revealed that humans are allowed access to snippets of recorded conversations to improve the performance of the respective devices.

Vice’s Motherboard also revealed similar practices going on at Microsoft, specifically with regards to Skype and Cortana.

Microsoft’s privacy policy now claims, among other things, that humans listen to speech recorded by users.

“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,” Microsoft says.

“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.”

Microsoft has said previously that Cortana will record your voice when it thinks that you’re accessing it or dictating speech. But it now says that the recordings may be subject to “transcription of audio recordings by Microsoft employees and vendors,” subject to local laws and restrictions.

Microsoft does provide a list of all recordings it makes using your voice, including a transcription of what it believes the voice is saying, on its privacy dashboard.

It’s worth reviewing; mine contains random notes and questions of Cortana, but also snippets of the voices of my kids playing the family Xbox, chatting randomly to friends and each other. There’s certainly no need for Microsoft to be recording the latter.

Microsoft does provide some privacy options: In the Windows 10 privacy settings, for example, you can turn off your PC’s mic access entirely, or place app-by-app limits on its ability to listen in.

You can turn off “Hey Cortana” functionality entirely, too. (If you don’t, Windows is always listening for the “Hey Cortana” trigger.) The privacy dashboard also allows you to clear the activity.

However, Microsoft isn’t allowing you to block your voice samples from being reviewed by third parties, whether they’re Microsoft employees or third-party contractors. And that means you can never be totally sure that your conversations remain totally private.

At the top of the privacy dashboard, Microsoft has placed a photo of chief executive Satya Nadella with the caption: “Your data, powering your experiences, controlled by you.”

Nadella’s statement then goes on to explain how consumers are in control of their data with “easy-to-use tools and clear choices,” and how Microsoft will be “transparent about data collection and use so you can make informed decisions.”

Unfortunately, Microsoft appears to have made one privacy decision without giving its customers the power to opt out: letting contractors review your private recordings, without identifying which recordings or allowing customers the ability to prevent it from happening. 

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags MicrosoftWindows 10Skype for Business

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Mark Hachman

Mark Hachman

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?