Latest in Gear

Image credit: Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook paid people to transcribe Messenger voice chats

It has already 'paused' the practice.
328 Shares
Share
Tweet
Share
Save

Sponsored Links

Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Add Facebook to the list of tech firms who've halted their audio transcriptions over privacy concerns. The company confirmed to Bloomberg that contractors had been transcribing Messenger voice chats to determine if AI had correctly interpreted the messages, but that it had "paused" the practice over a week ago in the wake of worries about other companies' transcription policies. The data was anonymized and came solely from people who'd volunteered for transcriptions, Facebook added.

The problem, according to Bloomberg's sources, is the lack of transparency. Contractors from TaskUs reportedly weren't told where the audio came from or why they were transcribing it. That led some of the workers to believe their work was "unethical," especially when some of the conversations included vulgar material. Facebook's data privacy policy also doesn't make clear that human beings might monitor content.

It's not surprising that Facebook would have frozen transcriptions, at any rate. As with voice assistants, there's a fear that staff might listen to sensitive information and potentially abuse that for their own ends. The company has long had to contend with allegations of eavesdropping on phones to target ads -- Messenger transcriptions weren't going to help with public perception. And when Facebook only just received a $5 billion FTC fine for privacy violations, it likely didn't want to risk further government scrutiny.

The challenge is to balance privacy with technical needs. AI transcription still has a lot of room for improvement, and it's difficult to boost accuracy without good examples. If Facebook has to permanently end its transcription program, it may have to either scramble for a viable alternative to improving the AI or else accept that its accuracy might remain similar for a long time.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Comment
Comments
Share
328 Shares
Share
Tweet
Share
Save

Popular on Engadget

Engadget's 2019 Back-to-School Guide

Engadget's 2019 Back-to-School Guide

View
Terminator T-800 and The Joker are coming to 'Mortal Kombat 11'

Terminator T-800 and The Joker are coming to 'Mortal Kombat 11'

View
Microsoft contractors listened to what people told their Xbox consoles

Microsoft contractors listened to what people told their Xbox consoles

View
Tesla delays price hike for self-driving upgrade

Tesla delays price hike for self-driving upgrade

View
New wristband could predict aggressive outbursts in people with autism

New wristband could predict aggressive outbursts in people with autism

View

From around the web

Page 1Page 1ear iconeye iconFill 23text filevr