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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Vows to Act Tough on Harassment

This is not the first time Microsoft faced scrutiny for sexual harassment claims

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Microsoft doesn't use customers' data for profit: Satya Nadella. (Wikimedia Commons)

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has said the company is making sweeping changes in its HR practices to address complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination at the workplace.

In a letter to the employees obtained by Quartz, Nadella on Monday said the tech giant would create a new “Employee Advocacy Team”.

The letter came in the wake of an email chain full of sexual harassment claims by women employees.

Started on March 20, the email chain contains allegations of sexual harassment ranging from sexist comments during work trips to being told to sit on a co-worker’s lap in front of a human resources leader.

“I’m disappointed to hear about any behaviour in our workplace that falls short of the diverse and inclusive culture we are striving to create. But I’m encouraged that people feel empowered to speak up and demand change. I want all of us to learn and act on this feedback,” Nadella wrote.

According to an account of one female Microsoft employee in the email chain, an employee of a partner company threatened to kill her if she did not perform implied sexual acts.

The employee said she had raised an alarm, but HR and the management did nothing to assuage her concerns.

Another employee alleged that while she was working as a “Microsoft Partner” – a senior level person in the organisation – she was asked to sit on a co-worker’s lap.

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella delivers the keynote address at Build, the company’s annual conference for software developers. VOA

“As a Microsoft Partner, was asked to sit on someone’s lap twice in one meeting in front of HR and other executives,” she wrote, adding that no one objected to the demand.

Nadella said the company would provide additional support and more information for employees who raise complaints about employee behaviour.

“HR is also creating a new Employee Advocacy Team that will focus exclusively on assisting employees going through a workplace investigation, including helping employees understand the process, guiding them through investigations and following up after investigations are finished to check in on the employees involved,a the Microsoft CEO informed.

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Microsoft would develop new company-wide disciplinary guidelines for work-related misbehaviour.

“When an investigation is finished, we will provide to a manager both a factual conclusion about the findings and the range of expected discipline,” Nadella said.

This is not the first time Microsoft faced scrutiny for sexual harassment claims.

According to a class action lawsuit filed in March 2018, the software giant did not take seriously 238 cases of sexual harassment or discrimination between 2010 and 2016. (IANS)

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Third-party Contractors Listen to Your Skype, Cortana Chats; Admits Microsoft

Apple, Google and Amazon recently suspended human review of user audio recordings after reports said the companies used third-party contractors to listen users’ voice recordings

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FILE - Microsoft Corp. signage is seen outside the Microsoft Visitor Center in Redmond, Washington, July 3, 2014. VOA

Microsoft has admitted that third-party contractors listen to your voice conversations on Skype and virtual assistant Cortana.

The revelation came after Motherboard found contractors were listening to audio from both services, including sensitive and personal conversations of Microsoft customers.

“We realised, based on questions raised recently, that we could do a better job specifying that humans sometimes review this content,” a Microsoft spokesperson told Motherboard on Wednesday.

“We’ve updated our privacy statement and product FAQs to add greater clarity and will continue to examine further opportunities to improve,” the spokesperson added.

The updated privacy statement says human review is used to help build, train and improve the accuracy of its Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems.

“Our processing of personal data for these purposes includes both automated and manual (human) methods,” read Microsoft’s privacy policy.

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FILE – A sign for Microsoft is seen on a building in Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 18, 2017. VOA

“We manually review short snippets of a small sampling of voice data. We have taken steps to de-identify to improve our speech services, such as recognition and translation,” it added.

The Skype Translator’s new FAQ read: “This may include transcription of audio recordings by Microsoft employees and vendors, subject to procedures designed to protect users’ privacy, including taking steps to de-identify data, requiring non-disclosure agreements with vendors and their employees, and requiring that vendors meet the high privacy standards set out in European law and elsewhere”.

The tech giant, however, did not disclose whether it will disband the practice.

According to Motherboard, Microsoft’s human review contractors are paid between $12 and $14 an hour for the job, and transcribe up to 200 audio clips every hour.

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After Google, Apple and Amazon, Facebook has become the latest tech giant who was paying third-party contractors to transcribe and listen to your conversations on its Messenger app.

Apple, Google and Amazon recently suspended human review of user audio recordings after reports said the companies used third-party contractors to listen users’ voice recordings.

While Apple suspended the programme that let its virtual assistant Siri listen to users’ recordings for “quality control”, Google stopped listening and transcribing Google Assistant recordings in Europe. (IANS)