Facebook contractors listened in on Messenger audio clips

Similar to Microsoft, Facebook has been caught hiring third-party contractors to listen in on audio clips of its users.

According to Bloomberg, Facebook hired third-party contractors to review and transcribe audio of users, though Facebook is now saying it stopped using them “more than a week ago”. They were used to check whether conversations were being correctly transcribed in the Messenger app.

What’s happening?

For the past four years, Facebook Messenger has offered a voice-to-text transcription feature. Although turned off by default, Facebook users who had opted into the feature unwittingly also agreed to have their audio clips reviewed by human contractors outside of Facebook.

To be clear, Bloomberg’s report is not confirming rumours that secretly listens to all your Messenger converstions. But third-party contractors hired by the company were allowed to listen to audio from users who agreed, whether they explicitly realized it or not.

Why is this a big deal?

Facebook’s support page reveals only one person in a Messenger conversation had to consent to transcription, and then any audio in the chat could be translated. Secondly, both Facebook’s support page and terms of service do not specify humans are reviewing the audio. Facebook only said its “systems automatically process content and communications you and others provide to analyze context and what’s in them”.

In other words, Facebook didn’t make clear to users exactly who was reviewing their audio clips and creating transcriptions.

Microsoft is doing this, too?

Yes, it’s recently been revealed that Microsoft, as well as Google, Apple, and Amazon, have all used third-party human contractors to listen to audio obtained through their products. Each company has been criticised for not being totally upfront with users.

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