Facebook let people listen to recordings of people as they used app, company reveals

Findings come amid outcry over how tech companies use personal and intimate information

Andrew Griffin
Wednesday 14 August 2019 09:17
Facebook let people listen to recordings of people as they used app, company reveals

Facebook allowed people to listen to things people said around their phone, it has revealed.

The company took recordings of people using Messenger and allowed contractors to listen to them to ensure its transcription services were working properly.

It says it has now stopped the practise, following outcry. It comes after other companies including Apple, Google and Amazon faced criticism for also listening in to people's voice recordings.

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

The recordings were made as people used a transcription service inside Facebook Messenger, which allows people to speak into their phone rather than typing out messages. As such, they probably included very personal and intimate chats, with people being recorded as they chatted to friends

Facebook says that identifying information was removed from the audio snippets. They were being used to improve the AI transcription by allowing people to ensure that messages were being transcribed accurately.

The new discovery, first reported by Bloomberg, comes after outcry across the technology industry. Companies including Apple, Amazon and Google all used human contractors to check AI transcriptions until very recently – and have stopped in the wake of widespread public anger.

Facebook has been clear that the feature was only enabled when people explicitly opted into it. As such, it is not a comment on whether or not phones are listening to their users while they talk by default or when not using the transcription service, which is a claim regularly made about Facebook but which it has always strenuously denied.

Facebook introduced the transcription feature in 2015. While Facebook does give some warnings in various parts of the app that audio recorded by it could be stored by the company, it does not seem to give any explicit indication that the recordings could be passed on to third-party contractors to listen to.

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