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Facebook Adds To The List Of Those Whose Workers Listen To Private Conversations

Uloma Mary Omolaiye

Many big techs like Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and Google have come under fire from critics for subjecting private conversations to human review with a goal to improve their software, a practice which critics believe is an invasion of privacy. Facebook joins the league of companies that pay contractors to review audio messages by the users of its service.

Facebook revealed that it pays external contractors to transcribe clips from audio messages by users of its service. The people who review the snippets of the audio messages have no knowledge about the real identities attached to the voices. They have no idea where the recordings take place or how they are obtained. All they know is that they can hear conversations between people which can sometimes contain vulgar languages.

The company confirmed this on Tuesday and said it would refrain from the process, much like Apple and Google have paused human review of audio over a week.  Facebook noted that like Google and other big tech who did the same, the contractors were reviewing the messages to better improve the services of the artificial intelligence software.

It was reported in April that Amazon had a host of workers listening Alexa’s audio requests with the aim of improving its software. The tech giant was slammed because it hadn’t stated this clearly in its terms and conditions that messages could be intercepted by human. It was a similar process for Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri. All the audio messages were subjected to human review as against what was stated in their respective policies. All tech giants came under fire for this. Apple and Google have since refrained from this practice saying they will let users opt out of human review.

The social network had long denied claims of intercepting users’ audio messages to help determine what ads users should see in their news feeds. Mark Zuckerberg denied this claim during the congressional testimony. He told US Senator Gary Peters:

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. We don’t do that.”

In a follow up response concerning the matter, the chef executive responded that Facebook only accesses users’ microphone when given the permission to. Yet, the social network didn’t disclose to users that their audio messages may be subjected to review by humans.

The major hit common among all big techs that employ the service of voice messages or recordings underscores the limit of artificial intelligence in its ability to transcribe words and speech patterns. The machines in some way still relies on human interference to boost its efficiency. 

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