Facebook admits sending voice chats to contractors to transcribe

JC Torres - Aug 13, 2019, 9:51 pm CDT
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Facebook admits sending voice chats to contractors to transcribe

As one of the most controversial Big Tech companies, it seems that Facebook doesn’t want to get left behind but not in a good way. Google, Amazon, and even Apple have all been exposed sending audio clips taken from AI assistants to human listeners to review and tag those to improve the service. Facebook, however, doesn’t have such a smart assistant but is now reported to have also done the same to its users without the knowledge that some human might be privy to their intimate voice chats.

Facebook isn’t the first outside of those big three to be dragged into this recent controversy. Microsoft was also reported to be doing the same with Skype calls, almost prefiguring what Facebook was doing with Messenger voice chats. And like everyone else, Facebook claims users agreed to a general random sampling of voice recordings for the betterment of the service. Like everyone else, it didn’t tell them some humans would be involved.

One unique element to this story is that not even the contractors hired by Facebook knew exactly what they were getting into. They weren’t informed about the source of the audio clips, perhaps in an attempt to protect Facebook from any liability more than to protect users. Given the content of those recordings, which ranged from the mundane to the vulgar, it became clear later on they were listening to conversations users presumed were private. This, in turn, made such reviewers uncomfortable about the legality and ethics of their work.

The social giant did admit that it did engage in this “industry practice” but has ceased doing so a few weeks back. That was exactly when the news exploded about contractors listening to audio recordings for the sake of analyzing and tagging them for machine learning.

This admission flies in the face of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s sworn testimony before Congress that it didn’t send audio recordings from Messenger’s voice chats to third-parties. Granted, he specifically mentioned ads but that would be splitting hairs. Either way, it seems like this is yet another nail on the coffin of a company that just settled with the US FTC over privacy violations.


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