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Facebook Paid Contractors to Transcribe Messenger Voice Chats

Facebook paid “hundreds of outside contractors” to transcribe user audio clips from its Messenger app, reports Bloomberg.

Employees who worked on the transcription were not told where the audio was recorded or how it was obtained, nor were they told why Facebook needs conversations transcribed.

Facebook says that while it had indeed been transcribing audio, it no longer plans to do so. "We paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” Facebook told Bloomberg.

Facebook’s decision to pause its audio transcribing comes following scrutiny of human review programs from Apple, Amazon, and Google. The three companies use employees to review voice assistant requests and accidental activations for improvement purposes.

One firm that Facebook uses to transcribe Messenger conversations is TaskUs, a company that also reviews Facebook content for possible policy violations.

Facebook says that users who had voice chats transcribed had opted in, and that the transcriptions were used to make sure Facebook’s AI correctly interpreted the messages. Despite this, Facebook did not disclose to users that third parties may be reviewing audio, which led some of Facebook’s contractors to “feel their work is unethical.”

Facebook’s data use policy does mention the collection of “content, communications, and other information,” but there’s no specific mention of audio.
Facebook says its “systems automatically process content and communications you and others provide to analyze context and what’s in them.” It includes no mention of other human beings screening the content. In a list of “types of third parties we share information with,” Facebook doesn’t mention a transcription team, but vaguely refers to “vendors and service providers who support our business” by “analyzing how our products are used.”

While Facebook claims it has stopped the audio transcription program, those concerned should refrain from using Facebook services like Messenger and WhatsApp.

Google and Apple have temporarily suspended their human audio review programs, while Amazon is letting Alexa users opt out. In the future, when Apple re-implements human review of Siri queries, there will be a clear privacy policy and opt-out option.

Top Rated Comments

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9 weeks ago
Facebook getting more creepier everyday
Rating: 28 Votes
9 weeks ago
Facebook: "Yeah you know that totally invasive, unethical, privacy-denying stuff that we were doing just a minute ago? Yeah we're totally not doing that anymore and you're actually not 'dumb *****' for trusting us like Mark Zuckerberg, our provably-human CEO said."
Rating: 18 Votes
9 weeks ago
Example # 397 of Facebook having zero respect for personal information.

But guyz, this is a one-off misunderstanding, promise! Sure thing bub.

Seriously, delete your effing account already. That place is beyond toxic and frankly dangerous.
Rating: 11 Votes
9 weeks ago
I understand, why you have to transcribe audio recordings to improve a voice recognition system like Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant.

But why does Facebook transcribe voice chats? Despite of some unethical things I see no legitimation for Facebook to do that.
Rating: 10 Votes
9 weeks ago
Hello fellow Humans! It is me, Mark Zuckerberg!
We are happy to announce that as of yesterday, we have put our Privacy Violating Practices™ temporarily on hold, so all is well! Please continue to use Messenger Audio Messages™, and rest assured that no Human will be listening in on them (including me, obviously)! Please also speak clearly and slowly to ensure that your Friends™ can hear you.
C:\dev\file.c(467) : error C2143: syntax error : missing ';' before 'type'
Rating: 9 Votes
9 weeks ago
Least shocking news story of the week, we have a winner.
Rating: 9 Votes
9 weeks ago
Wait till the media finds out about medical transcriptionists...
Rating: 7 Votes
9 weeks ago
This is the only known way to make speech to text more accurate...
Rating: 7 Votes
9 weeks ago

Users did consent in all these cases. It was in the terms and conditions. People just clicked through without reading. And private contractors don't matter, your medical records are routinely transcribed by a private contractor.

There are laws protecting your medical records and Facebook seems to have no laws they can follow.
Rating: 5 Votes
9 weeks ago
It's interesting to see lots of tech message boards in which the same people flip on contractors. When it's a story about Uber and Lyft, it's always about how these people should be considered full employees and get benefits and unions because they are good people who are being held out by mean companies.

When it's a story about Amazon, Apple, Facebook or Google suddenly the contractors are no-account awful people who are out to skirt accountability and can't be trusted because they aren't the real thing, and they are secretly using your information and voice to steal your identity or eavesdrop on your marriage.

Strange times we live in, for sure.
Rating: 5 Votes

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