Another day, another Facebook data privacy scandal. Facebook is thrust yet again into the spotlight for another security issue. This time, reports say the company hired contractual workers to listen to and transcribe select voice conversations stored on Messenger.

As Bloomberg reports, the company hired the contractors in an effort to boost its artificial intelligence.

To be clear, other companies have done or are doing similar efforts to improve voice recognition in their respective platforms, including products such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri.

Facebook Listening To Recordings

According to Bloomberg, the work has rattled the contract employees, who are not told where the audio was recorded or how it was acquired, only to transcribe it, according to the people, who asked for anonymity so as not to lose their jobs. These workers are hearing Facebook users' conversations but do not know why Facebook needs them transcribed.

Facebook confirmed that it was indeed transcribing users' audio but said it will no longer do so, following scrutiny into other companies.

"Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago," Facebook said.

Affected users chose the option in the Messenger app to have their voice chats transcribed, according to the company. The contractors were checking whether Facebook's AI correctly interpreted the messages. The voice memos were anonymized.

Data Collection

Major tech companies have received flak for fathering audio snippets from devices and exposing those clips to actual humans for review, a practice that critics regard as an invasion of privacy. In April, it was found that Amazon employed a team of thousands of workers globally to listen to Alexa audio requests as part of big efforts to improve the software. As mentioned, Google and Apple performed similar things. Both these companies have since said they no longer collect voice data, and Amazon said it will let users opt out.

Facebook has yet to disclose to its users that their audio chats may be reviewed by third parties. As a result, some of the contract workers feel their work is unethical, according to people familiar with the issue.

Facebook doesn't have a voice assistant comparable to Google Assistant, Alexa, or Siri, which puts the purpose of its data gathering to question. Its Portal device uses Alexa, in fact. But reports say the company has been developing its own smart assistant since 2018.

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