Facebook admits they were in fact listening to some user’s conversations. Everyday seems like a new major news story. What a time to be alive…
Facebook isn’t randomly turning on your microphone to sell you more targeted ads, as some conspiracy theories have asserted — but on Tuesday, the social media giant admitted that it has, in fact, been listening in on some users’ conversations.
Following an investigation by Bloomberg, the company admitted that it had been employing third-party contractors to transcribe the audio messages that users exchanged on its Messenger app.
The company said the messages used were “totally de-identified audio snippets used to improve AI transcription of messages from people who had opted into transcription on Messenger.”
The company says the practice has now been stopped, at least temporarily. There is no indication that Facebook has used the information it collected to sell ads.
“Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” a company spokesperson said in an emailed statement. When asked if the practice was likely to be restarted, the company declined to answer.
So what was Facebook’s excuse for listening to users’ audio? Everyone else was doing it.
A Facebook spokesperson told VICE News that the practice was “very common in tech” — at least until a week ago, when media reports revealed that Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft were all capturing and listening to audio from users’ devices.
In April, Bloomberg reported that Amazon was employing thousands of people to listen to what users say to its Alexa-powered speakers. Then, in July, Belgian broadcaster VRT obtained more than 1,000 audio recordings captured by Google, and the company admitted that the recordings underwent human review.
Last month, the Guardian revealed that Apple captured what its users were telling Siri, and reviewed those recordings to grade Siri’s responses.
And last week, an investigation by Motherboard revealed that Microsoft was using human contractors to carry out quality assurance on recordings for the company’s Cortana voice assistant.