Facebook got humans to listen in on some Messenger voice chats – Naked Security


Facebook has been collecting some voice chats on Messenger and paying contractors to listen to and transcribe them, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday after hearing from rattled contractors who thought that lack of user notification was unethical.

This is past tense: on Tuesday, Facebook said it knocked it off “more than a week ago” following the scrutiny that Apple and Google have gotten over doing the same thing. Bloomberg quoted a statement in which Facebook confirmed that yes, it had been transcribing users’ audio, but that it’s “paused” the practice:

Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago.

Facebook didn’t say if or when it might resume. The company did say, however, that the eavesdropping was opt-in: only users who chose the option in Messenger would have had their voice chats transcribed. The purpose was to vet Facebook’s artificial intelligence’s (AI’s) ability to correctly interpret the voice messages, which, Facebook says, were anonymized.

They’re all doing it – or at least, they were

Facebook is far from the only tech giant to get its human employees to listen in on voice snippets in order to fine-tune their AI and voice recognition technologies: Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon have all been doing it.

In April, Bloomberg reported that Amazon employs thousands of people around the world to work on improving its Alexa digital assistant, which powers its line of Echo speakers. Amazon has confirmed that it keeps these recordings indefinitely instead of deleting the data.

It’s sometimes mundane work. It’s sometimes disturbing: contractors and employees have reported hearing what they interpret as sexual assault, children screaming for help, and other recordings that users would be very unlikely to willingly share.