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Facebook Also Caught Transcribing User Voice Recordings Through Human Contractors

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Last Updated: August 14, 2019, 18:09 IST

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Facebook has stated that it has already stopped the practice of collecting and analysing voice snippets of users, which was seemingly done without any disclosure to its users.

Facebook and its saga of privacy gaffes seem set to continue, as a new report by Bloomberg has revealed that it hired third party contractors to hear in on collected voice recordings of users and transcribe them. The incident comes to light as fellow big technology firms Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft have all been caught in the act of collecting voice data of users, and have third party human contractors listen to information that is potentially sensitive, all in the name of improving the quality of service.

A Facebook representative has since confirmed to Bloomberg that the company has already cancelled the process of third party human contractors listen to the voice recordings of users. Facebook's collection of voice data of users was based on the 'voice to text' function of its Messenger app, which still operates without end-to-end encryption except for its 'Secret Conversations' mode. However, unlike the other technology firms, Facebook did not provide a clear and open disclosure to its users that the voice data may be collected and used to improve the service.

Facebook's terms and conditions for the service reveal that it uses Machine Learning to improve the service, but that is not sufficient disclosure for non-advanced users to understand that their voice snippets may be sent over to third party service providers. Industry experts have argued of late that instead of using human contractors, technology companies should look at using artificial intelligence algorithms in order to improve the quality of services that they provide. In this situation, Facebook stated that the voice recordings of users were maintained through anonymous metrics so as to protect the identity of privacy.

However, contractors involved in this scenario have revealed that many such voice recordings contained information that sounded "vulgar", which may spawn human entities to take unwarranted actions if the anonymous filters do not hold fort. As seen in Apple's case, these recordings were accompanied by metrics such as location of origin, which may enable tracking down of source and lead to a big privacy mess. It is not clear if Facebook's pool of voice recordings also came with similar filters.

With more voice-driven services in use today, the aspect of privacy looks at an uncertain future, despite lawmakers looking to enforce filters on how far can technology firms use their data. It remains to be seen if this issue escalates any further, and whether this leads to any further revelations that may be fatal to the protection of privacy of users.