by Aaron Kesel, Activist Post:
In another Facebook scandal of the year, the company has been accused of paying hundreds of outside contractors to transcribe clips of audio from users of its services, Yahoo News reported.
The work has rattled the contract employees, who are not told where the audio was recorded or how it was obtained — only to transcribe it, said the people, who requested anonymity for fear of losing their jobs. They’re hearing Facebook users’ conversations, sometimes with vulgar content, but do not know why Facebook needs them transcribed, the people said.
The revelation comes from the Irish Data Protection Commission in Europe, which said it will be examining the activity for possible violations of the EU’s strict privacy rules. Yahoo further reports that at least one contracting company known as TaskUs Inc. had employees tasked with transcribing audio and they were forbidden from saying who the company was, calling them by code name “PRISM.”
Facebook confirmed that it had been transcribing users’ audio and said it will no longer do so, following scrutiny into other companies. “Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” the company said Tuesday. The company said the users who were affected chose the option in Facebook’s Messenger app to have their voice chats transcribed.
Facebook has long denied the allegations that it records conversations despite having access to your phone’s microphone — as giving permission to access your microphone is a requirement to be able to download the site’s mobile app – thus giving the company the ability to access your phone’s mic at any time.
The app itself can listen to audio and collect audio information from users – while the two aren’t combined, and that no audio data is stored or correlated with advertising according to Facebook, after all these other lies one has to wonder.
Facebook admits it has a public feature that started in 2014 which will try to recognize any audio in the background, like music or TV— however, it’s only while you’re entering a status update, and only if you’ve opted in. So don’t worry they have required consent for everything else!
Forbes has also reported on the potential that Facebook was using its users’ audio information to target them with ads.
This is not the first time Facebook was accused of listening to conversations using smartphone microphones. Reddit user NewHoustonian started a discussion last year about whether the Facebook app was listening to conversations for advertising purposes. NewHoustonian started off the discussion with a post — which has since been removed — about how he suspects the Facebook app was listening to him because he started seeing pest control ads after talking to his girlfriend about killing a cockroach. That Reddit thread now has over 1,700 comments in regards to Facebook listening to conversations and several of those comments refer to similar experiences.
Mass communication professor at the University of South Florida, Kelli Burns, believes that Facebook is using the audio it gathers not simply to help out users, but might be doing so to listen into discussions and serve them with relevant advertising. Burns tested an experiment talking about cat food with her phone out, then loading Facebook — to her surprise she saw cat food ads, The Independent reported.
Last year, Vice reported another bizarre story about Facebook using its microphone to listen in on users. The author wrote they were talking about Japan with a friend, then subsequently received ads for flights to Tokyo.