Facebook has been hiring third-party contractors to review and transcribe audio clips of its users, consistent with a new report from Bloomberg Facebook claims it stopped using human staff to review audio clips “more than a week ago,” noting that the contractors were antecedently employed to examine whether anonymized conversations were being properly transcribed on the messenger app.
Since 2015, messenger has offered a feature to transcribe voice clips to text, though it’s turned off by default. Facebook claims solely those who opted in to the feature had their audio clips reviewed by third-party contractors. However, consistent with its support page, if even one person in your chat has consented to Facebook transcribing the conversation, any audio within the thread would have been translated, no matter who sent it.
The findings are notably troubling given that nowhere in Facebook’s support page or terms of service does it indicate that humans would be reviewing the audio. “Voice to Text uses machine learning. The more you use this feature, the more Voice to Text can assist you,” the support page reads.
“Facebook says its ‘systems automatically process content and communications you and others provide to research context and what’s in them.’ It includes no mention of other human beings screening the content,” Bloomberg’s Sarah Frier reports.
Facebook additionally solely identifies third-party vendors in its terms of service as suppliers who “support our business” by “analyzing how our merchandise are used,” however it doesn’t clearly spell out that this might include humans.
The report comes after it was found that Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon all used human contractors to listen to audio obtained through their voice assistant merchandise without being explicitly clear with their users. Amazon has since allowed users to opt out, whereas Google defends its practice, claiming the method helps Google Assistant operate in multiple languages. Apple, on the opposite hand, announced last week that it’s stopped using human contractors to review Siri conversations, and it’ll shortly enable users to opt out.
While conspiracy theories concerning Facebook in secret listening to conversations have existed for years, it’s vital to notice that Bloomberg’ s report isn’t claiming Facebook is actually doing that. The third-party contractors were allowed to listen to the audio that some users — in theory — gave permission for. Facebook simply didn’t explain to users specifically who was making their transcriptions.