Can Facebook Listen to Its Users’ Conversations?

Technology

According to a report by the US media, Facebook hired and paid some hundreds of contractors for both listening & transcribing fragments of its users’ conversations.

This report came in the midst of the increased perusal of the data collection practices by this social network.

Facebook confirmed the transcriptions, initially reported by Bloomberg. In a statement the tech giant told the news agency these transcriptions were made with the consent of its users, but has been stopped.

The company said this was similar to Google and Apple, but it paused the audio’s human review over a week ago.

AFP requested Facebook to comment, but the company did not respond.

The ability of Facebook’s artificial intelligence when it comes to interpreting messages, was tested by the contractors. However, just the users on the Facebook Messenger app, who gave permission for the transcribing of their voice chats, were affected.

According to Bloomberg, the contractors who worked on this project were disturbed whilst listening to personal audios, often containing vulgar content and of undisclosed origin.

As per the news agency, the contractors were not informed why they were conducting the transcribing.

All companies like Amazon, Google and Apple which offer voice assistants, have earlier confessed to collecting conversations in an attempt to improve its products.

During recent weeks, Google and Apple reported they’ve stopped the practice, whilst Amazon provides its users with the choice to block the collection of its voice data by using Alexa, the AI which drives its Echo voice assistant.

The social network recently settled a $5-billion fine for misusing the private data of its users, with the United States Federal Trade Commission.

The company has provided contradictory responses to reports which stated it is using audio recordings for improving target ads or attempting to enhance the attractiveness of its pages.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, stated in his testimony in the US Senate last year, saying there is talking regarding the conspiracy theory which is passing around, that the company is listening to its users’ microphones with the purpose to use the data for ads.He said: “We don’t do that”.

However, the company informed lawmakers later, in writing, it does collect conversations. However, only when users have particularly allowed it, whilst using some audio features.

Facebook did not disclose what it had done with these audios subsequently.

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