So far this year, we’ve learned that Apple, Google, and Amazon all had workers listening to user recordings to improve their voice assistants, and now a report says that Facebook has done the same thing.
Facebook paid hundreds of contractors to transcribe clips of audio from users. According to sources speaking to Bloomberg, the contractors aren’t told where the audio was recorded or why Facebook needs it transcribed. The workers say they’ve heard Facebook users’ conversations, including some vulgar content.
In response to this report, Facebook confirmed that it did transcribe users’ audio when they chose to allow Facebook Messenger to transcribe their voice chats. These contractors were working to ensure that Facebook’s AI could correctly interpret users’ messages, which were anonymized.
“We paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” Facebook added.
The issue is that Facebook did not disclose to users that human beings might be reviewing their audio, which caused some of the contractors doing the transcribing to feel unethical. There’s no mention of audio or human beings listening to your content in Facebook’s data-use policy. Facebook’s policy says that there are “vendors and service providers who support our business” by “analyzing how our products are used.”
Some people think that Facebook takes advantage of the microphones on users’ phones to listen to their conversations and serve them ads, and while that’s not what’s happening here, today’s news is sure to be unsettling to those people. And while the users whose Messenger chats were being listened to did opt in to having their messages transcribed, they’re probably didn’t know that actual people would be listening in to their chats, even if they were anonymized.