How low-paid Microsoft contractors train Cortana by listening to you

Not only does Microsoft have human contractors listen to some of your Skype and Cortana voice recordings, those contractors are paid poorly and given repetitive tasks, according to a report by Motherboard. And thanks to this new report, we now have an idea of what those contractors actually do with the Cortana recordings they listen to.

Motherboard says contractors earning merely $12–$14 an hour are expected to transcribe and classify Cortana voice commands into more than two dozen topic areas, including gaming, email, communication, events, home automation, and media control. These transcribed recordings are used to help teach the Cortana assistant to better understand speech. Contractors are expected to work through a grueling 200 classification tasks an hour — that’s three a minute, or one every 18 seconds on average. They do have the potential to earn a bonus of an additional $1 an hour, according to contracts shared with Motherboard.

Big tech companies have recently come under scrutiny for how they use human labor to power and train their services. The companies like to portray these tasks as accomplished by AI, but recent investigations have shown that it’s often repetitive work done by poorly-paid humans. Microsoft’s contractors listening to Cortana audio is one small example — content moderators at Facebook, on the other hand, are regularly exposed to extremely traumatic photos and videos and work in horrific conditions, as The Verge has reported.

In addition to Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook have all been found using human contractors to quietly listen to conversations recorded by their products. Apple, Google and Facebook have all paused the practice of using humans to review audio, but it doesn’t look like Microsoft is pressing pause: so far, the company has simply updated its privacy policy to state that humans may be listening to audio from Cortana and Skype Translator.

Microsoft declined to comment for this story.

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