Microsoft Contractors Listening To Recordings Made Via Skype Or Cortana

Jason Cooley is Support Services Manager for Tech Experts.

For years, Skype has been a big part of computer users’ experiences regardless of operating system. Whether voice calls, messaging, or video, Skype has a huge share of the user pool. Many Android users use Skype for video chatting in lieu of Apple’s popular Facetime app. It’s also popular among those contacting relatives or friends around the globe.

Skype even introduced an auto translate feature last year. The feature allows for translation between languages in (nearly) real time. Skype has made connecting with people easier than ever, no matter where they are from or their language.

Skype’s translate feature has been praised and for good reason. It is quite impressive that there is an application capable of translating so quickly, allowing people that don’t speak the same language to have a nearly flawless conversation. Of course, with software capable of such amazing things, it’s guaranteed that improvements will constantly be in the works so that it can reach its full potential.

Skype’s translator FAQ does state that calls are collected for data analysis, but that’s vague and may not raise any alarms.

What if I told you that some of those calls were being recorded? Not only that, but they are also being listened to in some cases.

With Skype, the data discovered shows that MOST of the Skype recordings gathered and reviewed are recordings using the translator. Again – that is MOST, not all. These calls contained all kinds of personal information: relationships being discussed, intimate conversations, arguments, you name it.

Skype claims that the information was gathered and listened to only to help improve the product. However, the problem will always go back to the fact that this information was not disclosed.

In fact, many people would say Skype was dishonest in the way that the privacy information was portrayed. Microsoft, who owns Skype, of course states that they only collected voice recordings with customer permission. Micro­soft also ensures that the data is treated as confidential information, but humans are still listening to personal conversations. The confidentiality of that seems suspect.

Then there is Cortana, Windows’ built-in digital assistance. Cortana can search for you, using voice commands. Much like more well-publicized assistants (such as Amazon’s Alexa), Cortana can help you by pulling up search results, maps, or other information you may need. Of course, Cortana also can remember some of your information for you.

So let’s think about Cortana being used in the real world. Asking Cortana about that embarrassing rash? Punching in your home address? Someone might be listening to that too.

The stance on the Skype calls (even though not ALL calls listened to were made with translator) is that Microsoft is collecting data for the purpose of improving its translator feature – so what about Cortana? Is listening to a person’s voice searches really improving any sort of programming?

Possibly, but that sort of testing could be done without the use of private recordings.

Coming Of “Edge:” Microsoft’s New Browser

Up until now, Internet Explorer’s successor has been secretly referred to as Project Spartan during Microsoft’s development stage. At the Microsoft Build 2015 Developer Conference, the project name was finally announced as the company’s newest browser: Edge.

The name was already familiar to those in the know because Project Spartan’s page-rendering engine was known as Edge, but now the name has been elevated to describe the product as a whole.

For those who have had difficulties with Internet Explorer, this new browser is long overdue, but Edge should turn their frowns into smiles because it is much faster and more compatible with modern web standards.

Edge joins its competitors, like Firefox and Chrome, in the use of extensions and actually uses the same JavaScript and HTML standard code.

This means that Microsoft’s new browser can easily adopt its competitor’s extensions. In fact, Joe Belfiore, Microsoft’s VP of Operating Systems Group at Microsoft, demoed a couple of extensions at the conference. However, you won’t see the extensions feature in Windows 10 until later this year.

Cortana, Windows 10’s Siri-like virtual voice assistant, makes an appearance in Edge as well. When needed, Cortana shows up in a blue circle in the browser’s toolbar to relay pertinent information related to the landing page, such as directions to a local business or contact information.

Edge users can also summon Cortana for assistance and extra info by right-clicking on text selections to find out more.

Another Edge feature is the new-tab page, a remnant from Internet Explorer with a few tweaks. When Edge users open a new tab, the page displays thumbnail icons for the most frequently visited sites. It also allows users to reopen closed tabs and makes many suggestions for apps and videos and facilitates access to weather or latest sports scores.

Edge also provides the option to view pages in a reading mode free of distractions such as images and advertisements. Users can even make annotations, such as highlights and notes, on webpages for sharing or storing as an image. Microsoft’s new browser also comes with coding support and will function the same across all platforms. Until Edge is formally released, users can test it on non-critical PCs by downloading Windows 10 and joining the Windows Insider Program.