Facebook collected audio from its users, then hired outside contractors to review and transcribe the audio for unknown reasons, a shocking report revealed Tuesday.
According to Bloomberg, Facebook hired third-party contractors to review audio chats in Messenger, the tech giant’s instant messaging platform.
From Bloomberg, citing people with knowledge about the work:
The work has rattled the contract employees, who are not told where the audio was recorded or how it was obtained — only to transcribe it, said the people, who requested anonymity for fear of losing their jobs. They’re hearing Facebook users’ conversations, sometimes with vulgar content, but do not know why Facebook needs them transcribed, the people said.
The Messenger app allows users to transcribe voice clips to text, a service offered since 2015. The service only works when a user manually enables it. By default, the setting is turned off.
However, Facebook support admits transcription continues even if just one person in the chat has enabled the service. That means Facebook would continue transcribing conversations that include users who do not want their audio chats transcribed.
Facebook claimed to Bloomberg that manual transcription was only for quality control purposes to assess the accuracy of artificial intelligence doing instant transcription.
Facebook said it ceased the service only recently.
“We paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” the company told Bloomberg.
Other tech giants have come under fire for employing similar services, which privacy advocates claim clearly violate the privacy rights of users.
Amazon once used thousands of workers around the world to listen to audio gathered by the Amazon Echo, which the company claimed it did to improve its services. Google and Apple also came under fire for their home assistant devices listening to user audio; both companies have since stopped the practice.
Only Amazon continues listening to audio, although now the company lets users opt out of the service.