Facebook Inc. has been paying hundreds of outside contractors to transcribe clips of audio from users of its services, according to people with knowledge of the work. Facebook has reportedly been paying contractors to transcribe the audio chats of users on its various platforms. According to Bloomberg, which cites people with knowledge of the work, contractors were given audio clips with no context of where they were obtained and told to transcribe them. Facebook told Bloomberg the users affected by this agreed to have voice chats transcribed through its Messenger app. "Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago," said Facebook in a statement to USA TODAY.
Facebook has become the latest company to admit that human contractors listened to recordings of users without their knowledge, a practice the company now says has been "paused". Citing contractors who worked on the project, Bloomberg News reported on Tuesday that the company hired people to listen to audio conversations carried out on Facebook Messenger. The practice involved users who had opted in Messenger to have their voice chats transcribed, the company said. The contractors were tasked with re-transcribing the conversations in order to gauge the accuracy of the automatic transcription tool. "Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago," a Facebook spokesperson told the Guardian.
Facebook is being probed by Hamburg's data protection authority over transcribing audio from users of its services, adding to an investigation into Google's automatic speech assistant. Facebook "is currently the subject of a separate investigation" into transcription of human-to-machine and human-to-human communications, the Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection said in a press release on Monday. "Manual evaluation was used in Facebook Messenger to optimize the transcription function." Bloomberg reported earlier in August that Facebook has been transcribing the audio of users who chose the option in Facebook's Messenger app to have their voice chats transcribed. The human review was aimed at checking whether Facebook's artificial intelligence correctly interpreted the messages.
Hey, Google, enough is enough already. Google was caught having contractors listening in to our conversations from its personal assistant, which sounds bad until you realize Google wasn't alone in this. Apple and Facebook were doing the same thing. And this week, Microsoft got stung by Vice's Motherboard, and now admits it, too, listens. The companies, which also include Amazon, have said they do this on a limited basis to learn and make their assistants better.
After months of revelations that smart speakers get a very human intelligence boost from contractors who transcribe and review customer audio snippets, the mea culpas are flowing in. At the end of August, Apple issued a rare apology about how it had handled human review of audio for Siri. Amazon and Microsoft have made it easier for users to understand how their data might be used and control whether or not it is eligible for review at all. And now Google is joining the fray with a set of privacy announcements about Google Assistant. Google paused human audio review worldwide in July after reports that a contractor was leaking audio snippets in Dutch.