Big Tech is listening

Big brother conceptual art.
Big brother conceptual art.

Big Tech is listening

A new report reveals that Microsoft contractors listened to private conversations captured by the company's Xbox systems.
August 22, 2019

A new report in Vice reveals that contractors working for Microsoft listened to private conversations captured by the company’s Xbox systems. While they were ostensibly listening in to improve the console’s voice command features, they also had access to audio recordings that the owners had no idea were being made. This follows past reports that contractors also had access to Skype, which is owned by Microsoft, as well as recordings made by the company’s virtual assistant Cortana. 

Other voice recognition systems have been accused of similar privacy lapses. Apple recently suspended a program that allowed employees to listen to recordings made by Siri. There have also been calls for Amazon’s Alexa to cover her digital ears. These companies, like Microsoft, say that they only meant to record voice commands – but that other words have triggered the microphones on occasion. Facebook has also faced accusations that it uses the microphones on smartphones to collect data on their customers, although the company has denied that it collects data this way. 

A December 2018 Vox analysis makes a key point: While some companies might be using voice recognition to listen in on private conversations, tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Amazon really don’t need to; they already have plenty of means to collect enormous amounts of data.

For the rest of today's tech news, head over to First Read Tech.

Zach Williams
is a staff reporter at City & State.