Saturday, 24 August, 2019

Facebook listened to users' conversations

Mark Zuckerberg makes his keynote speech during Facebook Inc's annual F8 developers conference in San Jose Mark Zuckerberg makes his keynote speech during Facebook Inc's annual F8 developers conference in San Jose Credit Stephen Lam Reuters
Russell Knight | 14 August, 2019, 08:25

Facebook has stopped feeding users' audio chats to third-party contractors for transcription after outcry over similar practices by its competitors (and a $5bn fine) reminded them some users still value their privacy.

Earlier this month, Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc's Google globally suspended reviewing recordings from users interacting with their voice assistants, as concerns over data privacy mount.

On Tuesday, a spokesman said the company had "paused" the practice "more than a week ago" after other companies' audio listening attracted scrutiny from the press.

Facebook was paying contractors to listen to and transcribe Messenger audio.

A spokesman said human review had been common practice in the industry until recently, and that the audio clips had been masked to avoid revealing anyone's identity.

The contractors were testing the ability of the social network's artificial intelligence to interpret messages, and the only users affected were those on Facebook Messenger app who had opted to have their voice chats transcribed.

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You're talking about this conspiracy theory that gets passed around that we listen to what's going on on your microphone and use that for ads.

Facebook hasn't disclosed to users that third parties may review their audio. That led some of the workers to believe their work was "unethical", especially when some of the conversations included vulgar material.

At least one firm reviewing user conversations is TaskUs Inc., a Santa Monica, California-based outsourcing firm with outposts around the world, the people said.

"You're talking about this conspiracy theory that gets passed around that we listen to what's going on on your microphone and use that for ads", Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in US Senate testimony previous year. In a list of "types of third parties we share information with", Facebook doesn't mention a transcription team, but vaguely refers to "vendors and service providers who support our business" by "analyzing how our products are used".

"We don't do that", he said.

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