Facebook paid third parties to transcribe audio chats by users

By Digit NewsDesk | Updated Aug 14 2019
Facebook paid third parties to transcribe audio chats by users

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HIGHLIGHTS

Hundreds of contractors are listening to audio clips from users without knowing where it’s from and who has recorded it.

Facebook said they stopped the practice a week ago.

Facebook never explicitly disclosed to users that their conversations were being transcribed.

Facebook has been paying third party contractors to transcribe audio clips from users of its services, according to a report by Bloomberg. Hundreds of contractors are hearing audio clips from users without knowing where it’s from and who has recorded it. They are only told to transcribe it.

The contractors told to Bloomberg that they often hear vulgar content and have no idea why Facebook wants them transcribed. Facebook, in fact, confirmed on Tuesday that it had been transcribing user audio, and said it will no longer do so, claiming the decision was taken a week back, after Google and Amazon were held to task for using humans to review recorded audio.

“Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” Facebook said in a statement. The company further elaborated that only users who have opted in on Messenger for having their voice chats transcribed have been affected. The reason for human transcription, according to Facebook, was to check whether its AI systems were correctly interpreting the messages. The messages used for review were anonymised.

While it’s now become a regular affair to hear about Facebook’s crooked privacy policies, it’s not the only company employing third party contractors to listen to people’s recordings. Google and Amazon and other big tech companies have also come under fire for asking contractors to listen to recorded audio, which according to critics, is a breach of user privacy.

Amazon had a team of over a thousand people listening to audio from Alexa devices with the aim to improve Alexa’s accuracy. A similar technique was used by Google to improve Google Assistant. Google has stated they no longer engage in such practices while Amazon has made it an opt-in feature.

Facebook never explicitly disclosed to users that their conversations were being transcribed which led to some contractors feeling the practice is unethical. The company revised its data-policy to make for reader-friendly and it still doesn’t mention any use of humans to transcribe user audio. It does say that Facebook will collect “content communications and other information you provide,” when you “message or communicate with others.” Facebook has been transcribing audio from Messenger since 2015.

One of the firms reviewing human audio from Facebook is TaskUs, based in California with outsourcing outposts around the world. Facebook is one of the largest clients for the company which also works on election preparation and screening political ads.

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