The contractors said that they were paid to listen in on countless, occasional vulgar conversations among Facebook Messenger users, though the company never explained to them why it needed the transcriptions. But the company doesn't disclose in its data-use policies that it collects audio from users or that it sends such data to human transcribers, Bloomberg reported.
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment from AFP. The contractors were checking whether Facebook's artificial intelligence correctly interpreted the messages, which were anonymized.
On Tuesday, a spokesman said the company had "paused" the practice "more than a week ago" after other companies' audio listening attracted scrutiny from the press.More news: Disney Exploring Sequel to Live-Action 'Aladdin'
The social media company has been facing broad criticism from lawmakers and regulators over its privacy practices. 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.
Earlier this month, Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc's Google globally suspended reviewing recordings from users interacting with their voice assistants, as concerns over data privacy mount.
The contractors also weren't told the reason why they were doing the transcribing, the news agency reported.More news: Dow drops almost 400 points thanks to growing trade war fears
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The murkiness of what Facebook did with these recordings is creepy, to say the least. It includes no mention of other human beings screening the content.
Facebook claims that it has since stopped this transcription process and "will no longer do so". Machines are getting better at the task but sometimes still struggle with the unfamiliar. The recordings that Facebook's contractors were transcribing came from the voice-to-text feature in Messenger. "We're always working on ways to make Messenger more useful", David Marcus, the executive in charge of the service at the time, said in a Facebook post.More news: Excessive Heat Watch issued for middle of this week for Clark County