Have you noticed how ads on social media seem to be precisely about the things you have been talking about to friends or family? Could it be just paranoia? Let’s find out.
According to a report by Bloomberg, Facebook allowed third-party contractors to listen to voice recordings of people using a transcription service inside Facebook Messenger. Instead of typing, people spoke into their phones when chatting with friends, most likely providing Facebook very personal and intimate information.
It might not seem like such a big deal, especially since identifying information was eliminated from the audio clips. The problem is there’s one thing for your conversations to be listened by a computer and a whole different thing for them to be heard and used by real human beings.
This feature was first introduced by Facebook in 2015 to make sure AI transcription service was working properly and improve it accordingly. Some indications were given that audio recordings might be stored by the company. However, it did not provide clear warnings that such recordings would be given to actual human beings.
This discovery of people reviewing audio snippets has sparked an outcry among users, especially in the wake of other technology giants such as Amazon, Apple or Google generating public dissatisfaction and anger for using human contractors to verify users’ AI transcriptions and voice clips.
For example, Apple contractors, who tested Siri activations, often listened on audio recordings about “drug deals, medical details, and people having sex.” This came along with information regarding location, contact details and app data.
Following public outcry, Facebook officials stated that “Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago,”. More than that, Facebook wanted to clarify that all conversations were anonymized and came only from users who enabled the “voice to text” option within Facebook’s Messenger app.
The statement was meant to reassure users that Facebook is not listening to its users when they are not using the transcription feature or by default, as many have accused them of doing.
With their terrible track record in terms of privacy and security, Facebook representatives stated that “Facebook does not use your phone’s microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed. Some recent articles have suggested that we must be listening to people’s conversations in order to show them relevant ads. This is not true.”.
One step in the good direction was made by Facebook earlier this year when they announced they were planning to encrypt conversations of all their services. We’ll just have to wait and see how everything works out!