The Skype Translate and Cortana audios were not the only content reviewed by employees at Microsoft’s request. The company also analyzed Xbox recordings with the aim of improving the console’s speech recognition.
The practice has occurred at least since 2014, according to reports made to the Motherboardby some third-party Microsoft employees. They started listening to recordings from Kinect, launched by the company in 2013.
In 2016, when Cortana was brought to Xbox, the recordings continued to be heard by humans. According to a former employee, the Xbox audio review started as a small part of the service until it became more than half of what his team did.
The console started recording when it heard commands like “Xbox” and “Hey, Cortana”. In some cases, when similar terms were said by the players, the device’s voice recognition was activated accidentally.
Unintentional recordings became less common over time, but they kept on happening. Another outsourced employee points out that much of the content was recorded without the consent of users, who said “No” to Cortana on many occasions.
As you can imagine for a video game, most audios have children’s voices. They gave commands “Xbox, give me all the games for free” and “Xbox, download the new Minecraft skin pack”.
The former employee also said he was told not to talk about his work with other people. “I explicitly remember being told that ‘you probably shouldn’t mention it was for Microsoft’ during the hiring process.”
Microsoft says revision is no longer needed
Microsoft told the Motherboard who stopped reviewing any voice content recorded by Xbox a few months ago because he understood that the practice was no longer needed. The company says it has no plans to resume revisions.
“We occasionally review a small volume of recordings sent from one Xbox user to another when there are reports that a recording violated our terms of service and we need to investigate,” explains Microsoft.
“Our processing of personal data for these purposes includes automated and manual (human) processing methods”, informs the new version of the document.
“We are actively working on additional steps we can take to give customers more transparency and more control over how their data is used to improve products,” concludes the Microsoft statement.
It is worth remembering that the manufacturer is not the only one to have maintained a review of recordings by employees. Apple and Google, for example, listened to commands from Siri and Google Assistant to improve the tools and suspend the practice after it was revealed.
Facebook promised to stop transcribing voice messages sent in Messenger. Amazon listens to the recordings to improve Alexa and said it will continue to do so, but only with permission from users. What will be the next to admit the practice?