Facebook last week halted a program in which it was paying third-party contractors to listen to and transcribe audio clips from its users, said Facebook. Earlier, Bloomberg reported on the existence of the program and the fact it had been stopped. The contractors had no knowledge of where the audio was being recorded or how it was obtained, Bloomberg reported, citing people who’d held these contracting jobs.
In response to this report, Facebook confirmed that it did transcribe users’ audio when they chose to allow Facebook Messenger to transcribe their voice chats. These contractors were working to ensure that Facebook’s AI could correctly interpret users’ messages, which were anonymized.
“We paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” Facebook added.
The issue is that Facebook did not disclose to users that human beings might be reviewing their audio, which caused some of the contractors doing the transcribing to feel unethical. There’s no mention of audio or human beings listening to your content in Facebook’s data-use policy. Facebook’s policy says that there are “vendors and service providers who support our business” by “analyzing how our products are used.”
Some people think that Facebook takes advantage of the microphones on users’ phones to listen to their conversations and serve them ads, and while that’s not what’s happening here, today’s news is sure to be unsettling to those people. And while the users whose Messenger chats were being listened to did opt in to having their messages transcribed, they’re probably didn’t know that actual people would be listening in to their chats, even if they were anonymized.