Facebook Workers Were Paid To Transcribe User Voice Recordings

At this point are we even surprised at the ways the platform has breached users’ privacy?

In the last 24 hours, Bloomberg and the BBC reported that hundreds of workers were paid to transcribe voice recordings of Facebook users.

Facebook, which was fined $5bn by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for its role Cambridge Analytica privacy violations, is the latest company to confirm it used third-party workers to convert audio to text. The social media giant said contractors were seeing whether Facebook’s artificial intelligence accurately interpreted the messages, which were anonymized.

The admission sits uneasily with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s April 2018 testimony to Congress, where he denied that ‘we listen to what’s going on on your microphone and use that for ads’. He explicitly said ‘we don’t do that’, and that the company ‘only accesses users’ microphone if the user has given our app permission and if they are actively using a specific feature that requires audio (like voice messaging features.)’

On Tuesday, the company said: ‘Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago.’

This was confirmed by one of the firms reviewing Facebook user conversations, TaskUs Inc. The Santa Monica, California-based outsourcing firm said: ‘Facebook asked TaskUs to pause this work over a week ago, and it did.’

The statement from Facebook is the latest in a series of admissions from big technology companies such as AmazonMicrosoft and Google and Apple, who collected audio from consumers and processed this using humans.

In April, Bloomberg reported that Amazon had an international team of workers listening to Alexa audio requests with the goal of improving the software, and they also showed how a similar human review process was used for Apple’s Siri and Alphabet Inc.’s Google Assistant.

This is a practice which many users feel is an invasion of privacy, especially after a whistleblower told the Guardian that Apple’s contractual workers heard drug deals, medical details and people having sex whilst providing quality control for Siri.

Whilst Facebook has joined the likes of Apple and Google in stopping this practice of human review, Amazon is continuing it but has said it will let users opt out if they wish.

The latest admission from Facebook follows the news of emails obtained during the FTC investigation, which connect Mark Zuckerberg to damaging privacy practices at the company, as reported by the Wall Street Journal in June.

When the man at the top of the chain has shown such a blatant disregard for users’ privacy, are we even surprised with this latest headline?

The answer is no, we’re not at all surprised. But it’s vital that we don’t let our lack of shock disengage us from the pressing need for more stringent regulation of social media platforms. As users, we need to continue expressing our outrage when our privacy is breached.

Photo by Peter Forster on Unsplash

If we don’t act, if we don’t lobby, if we don’t write to the government demanding change, then the Silicon Valley giants will continue peering through the curtains during our most intimate, private moments.

What do you think about the latest revelations regarding technology companies and privacy?

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