Facebook paid contractors to transcribe Messenger app audio

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Not one to be left out of a potential privacy scandal, a report on Tuesday reveals Facebook hired outside contractors to listen to and transcribe recorded Messenger voice chats, though the company said it recently put a halt to the program.

Messenger


Citing sources familiar with the matter, Bloomberg reports Facebook furnished anonymized audio snippets from its Messenger app to third parties, where they were transcribed by "hundreds" of contractors.

Employees at firms like TaskUs listened in on private conversations, the report said, adding that contractors were not made aware of the recordings' origin. The process, designed to tune Facebook's artificial intelligence algorithms, reportedly "rattled" workers.

Facebook in a statement said it recently stopped transcriptions in light of criticism faced by other tech companies over similar programs.

"Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago," the company told Bloomberg.

In the past month, Apple, Google and Amazon caught flak for collecting audio recordings of users interacting with the firms' respective virtual assistants. In response to public scrutiny, the companies either temporarily ceased such activity, offered users the ability to opt out, or both.

Apple, for example, came under fire in late July when a report from The Guardian detailed the iPhone maker's Siri grading initiative, which aims to make the assistant more accurate by reviewing anonymized audio clips. A worker at one of Apple's contract partners was concerned the process might inadvertently reveal a user's identity, personal information and other private material.

In response, Apple suspended Siri grading worldwide. The company also promised to include an opt-out feature in a future software update.

Amazon and Google followed suit and announced updates to programs that put recorded audio up for human review. Specifically, Amazon rolled out an opt-out option in its Alexa app, while Google said it had paused a program for reviewing Google Assistant audio in July.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 19
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,918member
    "while IN JULY Google said it had paused a program for reviewing Google Assistant audio in July sometime earlier"

    Anyway, why would Facebook be transcribing Messenger chats? There's no inadvertent key-phase activation issues Facebook needs to contend with nor incorrectly parsed search/command requests, the reasons that Apple and Google need to have humans transcribe and correct. I see no reason at all for them to be going over users chat sessions and logging the conversations. Facebook certainly has failed to explain themselves IMO
    edited August 13 FileMakerFellermuthuk_vanalingambadmonkdonjuan
  • Reply 2 of 19
    Facebook needs to be burned to the ground!
    lolliverdysamoriamacseekerbadmonkdonjuanlordjohnwhorfinwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 19
    mobirdmobird Posts: 220member
    Not one to be left out of a potential privacy scandal...
    Funny
    chasmnumenoreanbadmonkheadfull0winecornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 19
    irelandireland Posts: 17,653member
    If I send an audio message on Facebook it’s meant for the ears of the user on the other end. This is entirely different from getting help from a digital assistant. While Apple should certainly be doing a better job in this area, no way in hell is it acceptable for Facebook to be doing here in this scenario. Just goes to show. It doesn’t matter how many times Facebook gets caught stepping way over the line, they will continue to keep doing so. Fine them $50B, and bar Zuckerberg from ever running a corporation again. That would send the right message.
    lolliverdysamoriaFileMakerFellern2itivguysdw2001badmonkuraharadonjuancornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 19
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 3,104member
    mobird said:
    Not one to be left out of a potential privacy scandal...
    Funny
    +1. I actually clicked through to the article page to see who wrote that.
    Panamaniakbadmonkwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 19
    eriamjheriamjh Posts: 1,138member
    I’m actually disappointed that Facebook didn’t use some cool voice to text technology to transcribe the calls.  They must have been pretty poor quality to actually pay people to do it.  And considering 90% of it was probably junk, what a big waste of money to hear someone say “lasagne” then put an add for Stover’s in their feed (or Wevs).   
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 19
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 3,104member
    Anyone who uses Facebook for anything private is an idiot. I know a married couple who uses Messenger exclusively and it bewilders me considering they both own iPhones.
    lollivermacseekerdonjuancornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 19
    dysamoriadysamoria Posts: 2,270member
    Anyone who uses Facebook for anything private is an idiot. I know a married couple who uses Messenger exclusively and it bewilders me considering they both own iPhones.
    Have you bothered to explain the situation to this married couple, or do you think that everyone should just automatically know everything you know?
    urahara
  • Reply 9 of 19
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 3,104member
    dysamoria said:
    Anyone who uses Facebook for anything private is an idiot. I know a married couple who uses Messenger exclusively and it bewilders me considering they both own iPhones.
    Have you bothered to explain the situation to this married couple, or do you think that everyone should just automatically know everything you know?
    No, because they can do whatever they want. It's not my problem.
    agilealtitudeCloudTalkinuraharawatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 19
    If you want to have your eyes opened, use your MacBook, iPhone, and the Charles Proxy app to watch what (and how often) various apps communicate home — who needs the NSA when there’s Facebook!?
    cornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 19
    Why in the world can't Facebook simply respect its users' privacy? What was the point of transcribing the audio from the Messenger App. Facebook needs to be reigned in at this juncture. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 19
    chasmchasm Posts: 1,643member
    If you want to have your eyes opened, use your MacBook, iPhone, and the Charles Proxy app to watch what (and how often) various apps communicate home — who needs the NSA when there’s Facebook!?
    God, this canard again. Apps "phoning home" is not generally anywhere near as sinister as you're implying -- most of the time (like on every launch) they are a) checking for updates or b) syncing content (like email or any other synced or cloud content). If you're genuinely curious, contact the developer and ask (politely) what the app is doing when "phoning home." Chances are you'll get exactly the above, but feel free to do it yourself.
    gatorguyRayz2016CloudTalkinuraharawatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 19
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 3,104member
    If you want to have your eyes opened, use your MacBook, iPhone, and the Charles Proxy app to watch what (and how often) various apps communicate home — who needs the NSA when there’s Facebook!?
    For fuck’s sake. And how exactly would you expect Facebook to function at all without communicating with its servers? 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 19
    Apple, for example, came under fire in late July when a report from The Guardian detailed the iPhone maker's Siri grading initiative, which aims to make the assistant more accurate by reviewing anonymized audio clips. A worker at one of Apple's contract partners was concerned the process might inadvertently reveal a user's identity, personal information and other private material.”

    Inadvertently? The contractor said that “contact data” was associated with the clips. 

    All Apple keeps saying is that they removed the Apple ID from the recordings. They’ve repeatedly dodged the point about the contact data, and have never offered to clarify what it means. 

    No publication should label these recordings “anonymized” until Apple stops issuing weasel worded press releases and comes completely clean about exactly what identifiable information was associated with the clips.  
    numenoreangatorguyCloudTalkin
  • Reply 15 of 19
    sandorsandor Posts: 544member
    If you want to have your eyes opened, use your MacBook, iPhone, and the Charles Proxy app to watch what (and how often) various apps communicate home — who needs the NSA when there’s Facebook!?
    For simplicity, Ghostery still works great on my browsers. 
    Every page load i get that great little pop up telling me whats happening.

    Downside is about 10% of pages don't operate correctly.


    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 19
    sandorsandor Posts: 544member

    Arina14 said:
    Why in the world can't Facebook simply respect its users' privacy? What was the point of transcribing the audio from the Messenger App. Facebook needs to be reigned in at this juncture. 

    Why in the world would they?

    Like Google, their users are their source of income, but are free to leave any time they want.

    Anyone read Super Sad True Love Story? 
  • Reply 17 of 19
    I am one of those that is ok with google services and the data they store. This article on the other hand i don’t like this practice at all. How many people are aware Facebook is recording their audio calls let alone then passing those conversations on? 

    We are aware search’s are logged etc but I don’t think most anticipate their calls are actually being recorded. This is an appalling practice and I wonder with WhatsApp being owned by facebook if the same is happening there too. 
    muthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 19

    sandor said:

    Arina14 said:
    Why in the world can't Facebook simply respect its users' privacy? What was the point of transcribing the audio from the Messenger App. Facebook needs to be reigned in at this juncture. 

    Why in the world would they?

    Like Google, their users are their source of income, but are free to leave any time they want.

    Anyone read Super Sad True Love Story? 
    Edited...not worth it. 
    edited August 14 sandor
  • Reply 19 of 19
    blah64blah64 Posts: 933member
    chasm said:
    If you want to have your eyes opened, use your MacBook, iPhone, and the Charles Proxy app to watch what (and how often) various apps communicate home — who needs the NSA when there’s Facebook!?
    God, this canard again. Apps "phoning home" is not generally anywhere near as sinister as you're implying -- most of the time (like on every launch) they are a) checking for updates or b) syncing content (like email or any other synced or cloud content). If you're genuinely curious, contact the developer and ask (politely) what the app is doing when "phoning home." Chances are you'll get exactly the above, but feel free to do it yourself.
    Yes, oh God, this canard again, the one that says apps aren't sending out tons of data.

    It's NOT just stuff like checking for updates or syncing content.  If you don't believe or don't understand the situation, at least stop spreading misinformation. 

    As boxcatcher said, you can simply set up something like Charles Proxy and see what's actually happening.  I use more sophisticated, custom tools, and I'll tell you for a fact that most apps are sending out a variety of usage data to a variety of tracking/marketing companies.  The most important thing to understand is that most end users have zero way to even know what's happening, let alone control it.  The app developers themselves aren't even in control of much of it, they simply link third party libraries into their apps, so those third parties now have access to anything that the app does.  That includes device resources, like Contact List, camera, microphone, location, etc.  Some of this is easy to manage on an iOS device -- if you understand what's happening, but other usage/tracking data is impossible to block without using external firewalls.  That includes location-based tracking from IP (imperfect, but good enough to track most people).



    edited August 15
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