He acknowledged that he employed hundreds of third-party contractors to transcribe some of the Messenger voice conversations.
Amazon, Apple, Google … and now also Facebook. The social network has acknowledged that it used hundreds of external contractors to transcribe some of the voice conversations in its Messenger messaging system, transcripts that it described as “automatic” in the application but that were actually carried out by a human operator.
Although it is true that many of the conversations were transcribed without help, others were sent to this external team to produce more faithful transcripts that served to train the automatic system. Employees never had access to the name of the person speaking, nor did they know the purpose or destination of these transcripts.
Facebook has also assured the Bloomberg publication that only the conversations of Messenger users who had requested to receive transcripts of their messages – an option it has offered since 2015 – were sent to this team. The rest of the users, therefore, would not be affected.
The case is reminiscent of its competitors, who in the last month have acknowledged carrying out similar practices with the aim of improving the reliability and voice recognition capacity of their virtual assistants. In the case of Facebook, however, the transcription was made on voice conversations that users considered private.
Several associations for the defense of consumer rights have protested these practices, which they consider poorly implemented and poorly communicated.
A common defense of these companies is that the voice fragments are anonymized and that the human operators who transcribe the conversations do not know where they came from, but in the voice conversations or the commands dictated to the virtual assistants it is sometimes easy to include personal data .
Many of these assistants, in addition, sometimes mistakenly record conversations, believing that they have detected the word that activates them and therefore they can listen to conversations that users do not know are being recorded.
Finally, although the possibility of using recordings to improve the system appears in the terms and conditions of use of the devices, users are usually unaware of their existence and at no point in the configuration of these assistants is it clearly indicated.
Both Apple and Google have stopped transcription teams as they try to implement a system that allows users to choose that their messages are never heard by a human team. Amazon says it is developing a similar system and Facebook has confirmed that it stopped this practice last week, at the same time as Apple and Google.