Citing people familiar with the matter, Bloomberg is reporting that Facebook has been paying outside contractors to transcribe audio clips from users of its services. The publication notes that Facebook has acknowledged that it had indeed been transcribing users’ audio, although it said it was no longer doing so.
According to the report, the contract employees heard Facebook users’ conversations, sometimes with vulgar content, but did not know why Facebook needed them transcribed. “Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” Facebook confirmed earlier this week.
In its defence, Facebook noted that users who were affected chose the option in Facebook’s Messenger app to have their voice chats transcribed:
The company said it “only accesses users’ microphone if the user has given our app permission and if they are actively using a specific feature that requires audio (like voice messaging features.)” The Menlo Park, California-based company doesn’t address what happens to the audio afterward.
Facebook hasn’t disclosed to users that third parties may review their audio. That’s led some contractors to feel their work is unethical, according to the people with knowledge of the matter.
Facebook says that its contractors were only checking whether Facebook’s artificial intelligence correctly interpreted the messages, which were all kept anonymous.