From the announcement of at test of the transcription feature.

Facebook let contractors listen to audio recordings from users


Facebook was listening. Sort of. 

It turns out the company that only recently made a performative pivot toward privacy was paying contractors to listen to and transcribe users’ conversations, according to Bloomberg.

Notably, the contractors reportedly did not know how Facebook obtained the audio and weren’t informed as to why it needed to be transcribed. Allegedly, the recordings included “vulgar content” — although the specifics of what that means is unclear. 

The audio in question reportedly came from the Facebook Messenger app, and was part of a process to check if the company’s AI correctly transcribed conversations between users. Facebook insisted to Bloomberg that a person would have needed to select the transcription option for their conversations to have been sent to humans for review. 

We’ve reached out to Facebook with a host of questions about this program, but the only on-the-record response we received was the following statement: “Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago.”

Facebook announced a test of the transcription feature in 2015.

It does not appear that Facebook disclosed to users that a real person might listen to their conversations if they selected the aforementioned option. 

From the announcement of at test of the transcription feature.

“Our systems automatically process content and communications you and others provide to analyze context and what’s in them for the purposes described below,” reads a Facebook policy page. The “described below” section does not mention transcription. 

In its statement to Mashable, Facebook sought draw an equivalency between its (now former) practice and those of other Silicon Valley giants — referencing two companies that were recently called out for similar actions. Amazon also got heat for violating Alexa users’ privacy.

This revelation is likely to fan the flames of a long-running conspiracy theory that Facebook is spying on its users through their phones’ microphones. While that particular idea has been flat out rejected by Mark Zuckerberg, this latest addition to the ever growing stack of privacy violations by Facebook isn’t likely win it any trust. 

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