Surprise! Microsoft Admits That People Are Listening In on Your Cortana and Skype Conversations

mabe123/iStock via Getty Images
mabe123/iStock via Getty Images

In a turn of events that, at this point, probably shocks no one, Microsoft has confessed that human contractors have been listening in on some people's private conversations via Skype and Cortana.

Vice first broke the news on the privacy breach earlier this month, after a contractor passed along documents, screenshots, and actual audio files of some conversations. “The fact that I can even share some of this with you shows how lax things are in terms of protecting user data,” the contractor, whose name was withheld (for obvious reasons), told Motherboard. Unlike Apple’s recent Siri snafu, these conversations didn’t include potential criminal activity, but they did catch intimate exchanges about weight loss, love, and relationship problems.

Also unlike Apple: Microsoft is not suspending its practices. Instead, the tech monolith has updated its privacy policy to clarify that humans might, in fact, be eavesdropping on you.

“We realized, based on questions raised recently, that we could do a better job of clarifying that humans sometimes review this content,” a Microsoft representative told Vice. Before, the Skype website had mentioned that your content could be analyzed in order to improve the technology, but it never explicitly stated that humans would be listening to it.

Microsoft only records Skype conversations that use its translation features, in order to “help the translation and speech technology learn and grow,” according to the Skype FAQ section. If you’re not using translation features, your sweet nothings are reportedly as private as you want them to be. The updated FAQ section also now states that “Microsoft employees and vendors” may be transcribing the translated audio, and the procedures are “designed to protect users’ privacy, including taking steps to de-identify data, requiring non-disclosure agreements with vendors and their employees,” and more.

But Cortana’s data gathering isn’t limited to translation. According to its support page, Microsoft can collect your voice data literally any time you “use your voice to say something to Cortana or invoke skills.” If that worries you, we recommend spending some time adjusting the settings on your Microsoft Privacy Dashboard.

[h/t Vice]

Your Smart TV Is Vulnerable to Hackers, According to the FBI

Ahmet Yarali / iStock via Getty Images
Ahmet Yarali / iStock via Getty Images

By this point, many of us have had the experience of mentioning a product or service out loud during a conversation, only to have an ad for that very thing pop up on a smart device mere moments later. And, although you may have gotten used to the idea of your gadgets keeping tabs on you, you might not realize that your new smart TV’s monitoring capabilities make it extra vulnerable to hackers.

KATV reports that the Portland, Oregon branch of the FBI released guidelines last week as part of its “Tech Tuesday” initiative to warn people about the risk of hackers gaining access to unsecured televisions through the routers. Because smart TVs likely have microphones and even cameras, successful hackers could do anything from petty mischief to serious stalking.

“At the low end of the risk spectrum, they can change channels, play with the volume, and show your kids inappropriate videos,” the FBI says. “In a worst-case scenario, they can turn on your bedroom TV’s camera and microphone and silently cyberstalk you.”

Before you head back to Best Buy, brandishing your receipt and begging for a refund, there are a number of safety precautions you can take to make yourself less of an easy target for cyberattacks.

The first step is knowing exactly what features your TV has, and understanding how to control them—the FBI recommends doing an internet search with the model number and the words microphone, camera, and privacy.

After that, you should delve right into those security settings. Disable the collection of personal information if you can, and learn how to limit microphone and camera access. If you don’t see an option to shut off the camera, black tape over it does the trick.

And, even if it’s not the most riveting reading material, it’s worth perusing the fine print on your device and streaming services to find out what data they collect, where they store it, and how they use it.

Check out all of the tips here, and then see what other everyday objects might be susceptible to hackers.

[h/t KATV]

Hotel in Japan Is Offering Rooms for $1 Per Night—If You Agree to Livestream Your Stay

DragonImages/iStock via Getty Images
DragonImages/iStock via Getty Images

Many people are happy to document their vacations online without getting paid to do it. Now, as The Washington Post reports, exhibitionists who can't resist low prices are now eligible to book a hotel room in Fukuoka, Japan for just $1 a night. In return, they must agree to livestream their experience.

Tetsuya Inoue, the manager of Asahi Ryokan in Fukuoka, got the idea for the marketing stunt after one of his guests broadcast his stay voluntarily. Inoue figured that if people are already comfortable sharing their private moments in the hotel with the world, he might as well use that to his advantage.

The "One Dollar Hotel" promotion is a way for Inoue to bring attention to the 30-year-old guesthouse, which is owned by his grandmother. For $1—a fee that covers lodging, taxes, and tips—customers have access to a room that normally costs $27 a night. As guests eat, sleep, and get ready for the day, a camera installed in the room livestreams their every move to the hotel's YouTube channel. The only place where they have privacy is in the bathroom. Signs in the room warn guests not to engage in any "lewd acts" and to keep passports and credit cards out of the camera's field of view.

In addition to generating publicity for Asahi Ryokan, Inoue hopes that his YouTube videos will eventually become popular enough to monetize. Five guests have agreed to the deal so far, and after launching in October, the One Dollar Hotel YouTube channel already has close to 15,000 subscribers.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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