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Facebook admits to secretly recording and transcribing users’ conversations

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 10: Facebook co-founder, Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a combined Senate Judiciary.(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) Source: Getty Images North America

The social media giant has confirmed the recordings were taken from users who allowed Messenger’s voice-to-text automated transcription service.

Facebook has confirmed that it has been paying third party contractors to transcribe user conversations that they recorded in secret.

An investigation by Bloomberg has revealed hundreds of minutes of Facebook Messenger conversations were provided to human transcribers who had no knowledge of what the content was or it was obtained.

In 2015, Facebook introduced an opt-in voice to text transcription service in their Messenger app. Users were led to believe the transcriptions were performed by machines and no humans were privy to their conversations.

In a statement released this week, however, a Facebook spokesperson confirmed that the company has been outsourcing selected transcription orders to humans. The service has now been suspended.

Facebook claims that the purpose of the human review was to ensure that their machine-transcription service was working correctly.

Workers who confirmed the recordings to Bloomberg did so under the condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs. 

They reported the conversations given to them sometimes contained vulgar language and they were not told why they needed to be transcribed.

Earlier in the year, in a US Senate inquiry, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg denied the longstanding theory that Messenger was listening to conversations. 

Listening in

Facebook is the latest in a long line of tech giants to have come under fire for recording users conversations without express permission.

In early August, Amazon announced that it was adding a ‘no human review’ option to its Alexa AI product after it was revealed that audio recordings were being provided to human transcribers.

The Alexa terms and conditions did not make mention of audio clips being provided to human transcribers.

In July, Google admitted that more than 1,000 audio snippets taken from their Assistant feature had been leaked by its partners to a Belgian news outlet who were then able to identify people by their voices.

German privacy watchdog The Hamburg Data Protection Authority ordered Google to cease the recordings, to which the company confirmed that they had halted the practise in late July.

Apple was also forced to defend giving Siri audio clips to contractors after a whistleblower told The Guardian that they had heard snippets of “confidential medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex.”

The company said that “less than one per cent” of daily Siri activation recordings are given to human analysts.

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