Facebook paid hundreds of contractors to transcribe users' audio

  • Facebook paid hundreds of contractors to transcribe users' audio

Facebook paid hundreds of contractors to transcribe users' audio

It is the latest major tech firm to be caught listening to users' messages without their explicit knowledge, following similar revelations about Amazon, Google and Apple.

Facebook's data-use policy, revised past year to make it more understandable for the public, includes no mention of audio. Instead, it's Facebook's "systems" that are supposed to "automatically process content and communications you and others provide to analyze context and what's in them".

While the company admits it collects "content, communications and other information you provide [when you] message or communicate with others", there is no mention in its data use policy of humans processing the information.

"Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago", the company said. That led some of the workers to believe their work was "unethical", especially when some of the conversations included vulgar material.

You're talking about this conspiracy theory that gets passed around that we listen to what's going on on your microphone and use that for ads.

Facebook later told Bloomberg that the human transcriptions were being used to test the performance of its speech-recognizing artificial intelligence - a troubling admission that the company regularly violates people's privacy.

But in numerous hearings in front of Congress, CEO Mark Zuckerberg insisted that Facebook only accessed people's microphones when explicitly given permission to do so for features like voice messaging. They call the client by the code name "Prism".

TaskUs contractors also moderate content for policy violations, screen political ads, and work on "election preparation", an ominous term Bloomberg opts not to define but which has previously coincided with mass deplatforming of political accounts in the months preceding elections.

The murkiness of what Facebook did with these recordings is creepy, to say the least. Machines are getting better at the task but sometimes still struggle with the unfamiliar.

Facebook hasn't disclosed to users that third parties may review their audio. But this Facebook news is somehow more foreboding than anything we've heard before.