Published: Wed, August 14, 2019
Finance | By Loren Pratt

Facebook has been using contractors to transcribe Messenger voice chats

Facebook has been using contractors to transcribe Messenger voice chats

Contract employees said they were hearing users conversations, sometimes with vulgar content, but do not know why Facebook needs them transcribed.

Facebook has paid hundreds of contractors to listen to and transcribe snippets of users' conversations, US media reported on Tuesday, amid heightened scrutiny of the social network's data collection practices.

The audio recordings were generated by Messenger's voice chat transcription option, which lets users send voice messages which are then transcribed by AI for the benefit of their recipient. Meanwhile, Facebook never disclosed to users that their audio recordings would be reviewed by humans, though they did have to give Facebook permission to access their microphone to make the recordings.

Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago.

A spokesman said human review had been common practice in the industry until recently, and that the audio clips had been masked to avoid revealing anyone's identity.

The social networking giant, which just completed a $5 billion settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission after a probe of its privacy practices, has long denied that it collects audio from users to inform ads or help determine what people see in their news feeds.

But the company later told lawmakers in writing that it does actually collect conversations if users have specifically allowed it to do so and are using certain audio features.

Now playing: Watch this: Is Facebook spying on you? Santa Monica, California-based TaskUs instead refers to one of its largest and most important clients only by the code-name "Prism" - which is, ironically, also the name of the NSA initiative exposed by Edward Snowden that installed backdoors in popular online platforms like Google, Skype, Twitter, and... Even the list of third parties who might potentially receive users' information doesn't explicitly include human transcription teams, only "vendors and service providers who support our business" by "analyzing how our products are used". Facebook's data privacy policy also doesn't make clear that human beings might monitor content.

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