Facebook Collected Audio from Messenger and Transcribed Them

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It has now come to light that Facebook has been paying contract transcribers to review private audio chats from its Messenger app.

Since Facebook announced its own virtual currency, it has had to withstand a lot of backlash from several quarters including the U.S. Government. The social media giant has been embroiled in several issues involving privacy and data breaches for a long time and this is one of the major reasons Libra is not yet ago. Now, recent information has come to light, suggesting that Facebook has been collecting audio clips from its many users and outsourcing transcription of said audio.

Facebook Messenger Audio

According to a recent Bloomberg report, the audio in question was retrieved from the Messenger app. The job has however left the contractors quite unsettled especially because Facebook withheld information about the recordings including how and where it was being recorded and saved. Some of the contractors, who preferred to remain anonymous, have said that the recorded conversations cover a wide array of topics and contain obscenities in some cases. Facebook also did not tell them why they needed the audio transcribed.

Facebook has an artificial intelligence (AI) system it uses for the audio. According to Facebook, these contractors were hired to confirm whether the AI was properly interpreting the messages and audio. Facebook’s admittance of the human was quickly followed by a disclosure that the company had ceased the audio transcription.

“Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” noted the sources.

This statement could, however, still mean that the audio was still being collected and analyzed but only by AI. Facebook has also said the audio being collected was from its users who selected an option in the Messenger app, allowing their voice recordings and messages to be collected and transcribed. It might also be important to note that there is no explanation in Facebook’s privacy policy about what the audio is to be used for.

Big Tech and Privacy

There seems to endless occurrences of big technology companies having serious privacy issues. Facebook’s own problems came to fore again due to the announcement of the Libra and the company also recently paid the U.S. Federal Trade Commission $5 billion. However, Amazon, Google and Apple have also had their fair share.

Back in April, it was revealed that Amazon had large groups comprising thousands of people all over the world, who had access to audio commands from Alexa, purportedly with the aim of fine-tuning the system. The backlash saw Amazon quietly adding an Alexa option, allowing users to refuse human review of their audio requests. This is especially interesting because nowhere in the Alexa terms and conditions did it specify that audio might be reviewed by humans.

The same problem was also faced by Apple and Alphabet whose Siri and Google Assistant also used human reviews. Both companies have, however, also said they will allow users to disable the option if they so ask for such an option.



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