Privacy questions as humans reviewed user audio at Facebook
Published 7:56 am Thursday, August 15, 2019
NEW YORK — Facebook has paid contractors to transcribe audio clips from users of its Messenger service, raising privacy concerns for a company with a history of privacy lapses.
The practice was, until recently, common in the tech industry. Companies say the use of humans helps improve their services. But users aren’t typically aware that humans and not just computers are reviewing audio.
Transcriptions done by humans raise bigger concerns because of the potential of rogue employees or contractors leaking details. The practice at Google emerged after some of its Dutch language audio snippets were leaked. More than 1,000 recordings were obtained by Belgian broadcaster VRT NWS, which noted that some contained sensitive personal conversations — as well as information that identified the person speaking.
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“We feel we have some control over machines,” said Jamie Winterton, director of strategy at Arizona State University’s Global Security Initiative. “You have no control over humans that way. There’s no way once a human knows something to drag that piece of data to the recycling bin.”
Jeffrey Chester, executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy privacy-advocacy group, said it’s bad enough that Facebook uses artificial intelligence as part of its data-monitoring activities. He said the use of humans as well is “even more alarming.”
Tim Bajarin, tech columnist and president of Creative Strategies, said it’s a bigger problem when humans use the information beyond its intended purpose.
Facebook said audio snippets reviewed by contractors were masked so as not to reveal anyone’s identity. It said it stopped the practice a week ago. The development was reported earlier by Bloomberg.