Facebook Admits It Has Been Secretly Transcribing Users' Voice Conversations

Andrew Cummings
August 14, 2019

Facebook has been collecting audio from users' voice chats and paying outside contractors to transcribe them, Bloomberg's Sarah Frier reported on Tuesday. Santa Monica, California-based TaskUs instead refers to one of its largest and most important clients only by the code-name "Prism" - which is, ironically, also the name of the NSA initiative exposed by Edward Snowden that installed backdoors in popular online platforms like Google, Skype, Twitter, and...

"You're talking about this conspiracy theory that gets passed around that we listen to what's going on on your microphone and use that for ads", Zuckerberg told U.S. Senator Gary Peters in April 2018.

The audio recordings were generated by Messenger's voice chat transcription option, which lets users send voice messages which are then transcribed by AI for the benefit of their recipient.


"Facebook asked TaskUs to pause this work over a week ago, and it did", TaskUs said in response to a request for comment about the transcription work.

Bloomberg said the contractors working on the project were "rattled" by listening to private audio whose origin wasn't disclosed and which sometimes contained vulgar content. It's not clear why Facebook was paying to have these messages transcribed, though it seems reasonable that the human transcriptions might be used to improve its AI software's natural language processing abilities.

The contractors also weren't told the reason why they were doing the transcribing, the news agency reported.


Facebook's polices state that the biz will collect "the content, communications and other information you provide when you use [its] products, including when you sign up for an account, create or share content, and message or communicate with others".

The murkiness of what Facebook did with these recordings is creepy, to say the least. The recordings that Facebook's contractors were transcribing came from the voice-to-text feature in Messenger. But this Facebook news is somehow more foreboding than anything we've heard before.


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