Economy

Facebook has been listening to users' voice messages without their knowledge

Facebook has been listening to users' voice messages without their knowledge”

The contractors were not told where the audio clips came from; they were simply told to listen and type into a Facebook system what was said in the recordings, words that were presumably fed back into the U.S. tech giant's AI code to improve its transcription abilities.

The US-based tech company has been paying hundreds of contractors to transcribe clips of audio from users of its services, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg on condition of anonymity.

Shares of Facebook pared gains after the report and were up 1.66 per cent at US$188.44 (S$260.92). "We paused human review of audio more than a week ago", Facebook told Bloomberg.

Apple and Google have in recent weeks said they've halted the practice, while Amazon gives users the option of blocking the collection of their voice by Alexa, the artificial intelligence driving their Echo voice assistant. Facebook confirmed to CNET it has now stopped the practice, which the social network was using to check the accuracy of its artificial intelligence system in transcribing Facebook Messenger voice chats, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.

The social networking giant, which just completed a $5 billion settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission after a probe of its privacy practices, has long denied that it collects audio from users to inform ads or help determine what people see in their news feeds.

Now playing: Watch this: Is Facebook spying on you?

But the company later told lawmakers in writing that it does actually collect conversations if users have specifically allowed it to do so and are using certain audio features.

Further adding to contractors' concerns about eavesdropping on users' private messages is the fact that Facebook forbids at least one outsourcing firm from referring to them by name. Users also had to turn on the voice-to-text service in Messenger. 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.



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