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Facebook the latest tech giant busted for eavesdropping on audio chats

Guess which social media giant has been transcribing users’ audio chats without their approval or knowledge? We’ll give you two guesses but you’re only going to need one.

Bloomberg reports that Facebook paid hundreds of human contractors to transcribe audio clips from the Messenger app, citing employees who worked on the transcriptions.

Facebook admitted it had been transcribing the audio clips, but said it halted the practice a week ago. That decision came over revelations that Apple, Google and Amazon had been employing outside contractors to monitor voice commands, and not before.

“Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” the company said in a statement, while claiming those affected actually chose to have their voice chats transcribed.

Related: Facebook privacy settings you should change today

The company also says the human contractors were simply checking that Facebook’s artificially intelligent speech recognition tool had done its job correctly. The company also said all the conversations were anonymised and claimed the data isn’t used to track users for advertising purposes.

How does all this square with Facebook’s privacy policy? Well there’s no specific mention of audio transcription, and no mention of humans listening in on the content. The firm says its “systems automatically process content and communications you and others provide to analyze context and what’s in them.”

As pertains to third-parties who may have access to users’ data? The company says that “vendors and service providers who support our business” by “analysing how our products are used.”

According to the sources, the employees speaking on the condition of anonymity were not told why Facebook needed the conversations to be transcribed.

Today’s news comes amid a controversy started by a Guardian report revealing contractors had access to Hey Siri commands from Apple users, including some mistakenly activated commands. A contractor who blew the whistle on the practice said the employees heard people making drug deals and having sex. Apple has since suspended the human reviews from outside contractors.

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