Facebook is latest to admit to letting contractors listen to your audio files

14 Aug 2019

Image: Mactrunk/Depositphotos

Facebook has admitted that it allowed contractors to listen to user audio files and transcribe them to improve Messenger’s AI.

Facebook has admitted to having its contractors listen to and analyse some audio recordings from users. The social network said it had reviewed some small segments of audio to help improve the artificial intelligence of the transcription feature within its Messenger app.

The feature enables users to dictate a message with their voice before Facebook’s software transcribes it into text.

According to a report by Bloomberg, Facebook used contractors to carry out human reviews of some clips from the process. However, the social networking firm said it has now ended the practice.

“Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

In recent months Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft have come under scrutiny after admitting they had listened to audio requests made to their respective virtual assistants. The companies each said they used the practice to grade and analyse the quality of their voice and language recognition services, with the aim of improving their performance.

Some of the firms say they have since ended the practice, while Amazon said it will let users opt-out of having their audio reviewed by humans.

Facebook maintains that the audio used in its programme was de-identified and masked to protect user privacy. It has also claimed that it never listened to people’s microphones without device permission and explicit activation from someone.

The social network has previously been the subject of claims that it listens in to user audio in order to target them with advertising.

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg labelled this idea a “conspiracy theory” when he appeared in front of the US Congress last year, adding “we don’t do that”.

Last month, the social media company also agreed a $5bn billion fine with the US Federal Trade Commission over privacy violations linked to the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

⁠— PA Media

View of Facebook app loading on white smartphone.. Image: MacTrunk/Depositphotos.