Facebook paid contractors to transcribe Messenger app audio

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Not one to be left out of a potential privacy scandal, a report on Tuesday reveals Facebook hired outside contractors to listen to and transcribe recorded Messenger voice chats, though the company said it recently put a halt to the program.

Citing sources familiar with the matter, Bloomberg reports Facebook furnished anonymized audio snippets from its Messenger app to third parties, where they were transcribed by "hundreds" of contractors.

Employees at firms like TaskUs listened in on private conversations, the report said, adding that contractors were not made aware of the recordings' origin. The process, designed to tune Facebook's artificial intelligence algorithms, reportedly "rattled" workers.

Facebook in a statement said it recently stopped transcriptions in light of criticism faced by other tech companies over similar programs.

"Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago," the company told Bloomberg.

In the past month, Apple, Google and Amazon caught flak for collecting audio recordings of users interacting with the firms' respective virtual assistants. In response to public scrutiny, the companies either temporarily ceased such activity, offered users the ability to opt out, or both.

Apple, for example, came under fire in late July when a report from The Guardian detailed the iPhone maker's Siri grading initiative, which aims to make the assistant more accurate by reviewing anonymized audio clips. A worker at one of Apple's contract partners was concerned the process might inadvertently reveal a user's identity, personal information and other private material.

In response, Apple suspended Siri grading worldwide. The company also promised to include an opt-out feature in a future software update.

Amazon and Google followed suit and announced updates to programs that put recorded audio up for human review. Specifically, Amazon rolled out an opt-out option in its Alexa app, while Google said it had paused a program for reviewing Google Assistant audio in July.