Facebook hired hundreds of contractors to listen to and transcribe anonymized voice calls from users of its Messenger app, according to a new report by Bloomberg. The report notes that the contractors were “rattled” by the work and weren’t told its purpose.
The story follows past reporting about how Amazon, Google and Apple have all paid humans to manually review snippets of audio from their respective voice assistants. The revelations highlight ongoing privacy concerns around the use of voice assistants and how companies collect data from their users. Apple, Google and now Facebook have all paused the manual review of audio recordings due to the backlash.
Facebook said the transcriptions were done on audio calls from users who had opted into having their calls transcribed. Facebook has long harbored ambitions to build its own voice assistant, a process that usually involves human review and tagging of data to help train algorithms. Facebook told Bloomberg that the human-led transcriptions were done to check the accuracy of its technology.
Even so, the news is especially troubling for Facebook, which has long fought against the conspiracy theory that it’s secretly listening to user conversations to serve more targeted ads. It also doesn’t help that the outside firm Facebook paid to transcribe the calls reportedly referred its work for Facebook by the code name “Prism,” which is also the name for a domestic surveillance program run by the NSA.