Facebook paid contractors to listen to and TRANSCRIBE users' private audio exchanges to check its AI's accuracy, report reveals

  • Sources say Facebook paid hired contractor to transcribe clips from Messenger
  • The sources cited by Bloomberg say users opted-in to have chats transcribed
  • The social media firm has been facing broad criticism over its privacy practices

Facebook has been paying outside contractors to transcribe audio clips from users of its services, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

The company confirmed that it had been transcribing users' audio and said it was no longer doing so, Bloomberg reported.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Bloomberg, citing the company, reported that the users who were affected chose the option in the Messenger app to have their voice chats transcribed. 

Facebook has been paying outside contractors to transcribe audio clips from users of its services, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter. File photo

Facebook has been paying outside contractors to transcribe audio clips from users of its services, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter. File photo

The contractors were checking whether Facebook's artificial intelligence correctly interpreted the messages.

Shares of Facebook pared gains after the report and were up 1.66% at $188.44.

The social media company has been facing broad criticism from lawmakers and regulators over its privacy practices.

Last week, a federal appeals court rejected Facebook's effort to undo a class action lawsuit claiming that it illegally collected and stored biometric data for millions of users without their consent. 

The company also agreed to pay a record $5 billion fine last month to settle a U.S. Federal Trade Commission data privacy probe.

The report comes amid increasing scrutiny over the listening practices of top tech companies.

Apple, Microsoft, and Google have all come under fire in recent weeks for how they collect audio from their voice-activated smart assistants.

Earlier this month, Apple and Google globally suspended reviewing recordings from users interacting with their voice assistants, as concerns over data privacy mount.

Even big names in the industry have warned about the potential privacy abuses associated with technology.

TMZ ran into Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak at Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. at the beginning of July and asked him if we should be worried that our devices are listening to us.

And according to Wozniak, the answer is yes.

‘I’m worried about everything,’ Wozniak said. ‘I don’t think you can stop it, though.

‘Who knows if my cell phone is listening right now? Alexa has already been in the news a lot.’

The prevalence of connected devices today means your conversations might not be as private as you think they are, Wozniak said.

‘There’s almost no way to stop it,’ he added. ‘People think they have a level of privacy that they don’t.

HOW DOES FACEBOOK PLAN TO IMPROVE PRIVACY?

In a March 6 blog post, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised to rebuild based on six 'privacy-focused' principles:

  • Private interactions
  • Encryption 
  • Reducing permanence
  • Safety 
  • Interoperability
  • Secure data storage

Zuckerberg promised end-to-end encryption for all of its messaging services, which will be combined in a way that allows users to communicate across WhatsApp, Instagram Direct, and Facebook Messenger. 

This he refers to as 'interoperability.' 

He also said moving forward, the firm won’t hold onto messages or stories for ‘longer than necessary’ or ‘longer than people want them.’

This could mean, for example, that users set messages to auto-delete after a month or even a few minutes. 

'Interoperability' will ensure messages remain encrypted even when jumping from one messaging service, such as WhatsApp, to another, like Instagram, Zuckerberg says. 

Facebook also hopes to improve users' trust in how it stores their data.

Zuckerberg promised the site 'won't store sensitive data in countries with weak records on human rights like privacy and freedom of expression in order to protect data from being improperly accessed.'

 

Facebook paid contractors to listen to and TRANSCRIBE users' audio exchanges

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