Facebook paid hundreds of contractors to transcribe users’ audio

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the annual F8 summit at the San Jose Mc Enery Convention Center in San Jose California

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the annual F8 summit at the San Jose Mc Enery Convention Center in San Jose California

Amazon, Apple and Google - all companies offering voice assistants - have previously acknowledged collecting conversations for the goal of improving their products.

Bloomberg said the contractors working on the project were "rattled" by listening to private audio whose origin wasn't disclosed and which sometimes contained vulgar content. Some said the uncertainty and apparent duplicity - Facebook doesn't tell users third parties may review their audio - troubled them.

Facebook acknowledged the transcriptions, which were first reported by Bloomberg, telling the news agency in a statement that they were made with users' permission, but that the practice has nonetheless been stopped.

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.

While this is bad enough on its own and considering the other multiple privacy concerns Facebook has been regularly facing, it's even more damning when you take into account CEO Mark Zuckerberg's comments from his Congressional testimony that took place back in April 2018. Facebook is one of TaskUs's largest and most important clients, but employees aren't allowed to mention publicly who their work is for.

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.

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. They call the client by the code name "Prism". But this Facebook news is somehow more foreboding than anything we've heard before. Facebook's data privacy policy also doesn't make clear that human beings might monitor content. That some of the contractors have found the recorded content disturbing is further reminder of the human toll of moderating content on Facebook, the world's biggest social network.

Facebook says its "systems automatically process content and communications you and others provide to analyze context and what's in them".

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