Facebook paid contractors to transcribe audio of users

Amazon, Apple and Google - all companies offering voice assistants - have previously acknowledged collecting conversations for the objective of improving their products.

Facebook told Bloomberg that it stopped the secretive project last week.

On Tuesday, a spokesman said the company had "paused" the practice "more than a week ago" after other companies' audio listening attracted scrutiny from the press.

"You're talking about this conspiracy theory that gets passed around that we listen to what's going on on your microphone and use that for ads", Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in US Senate testimony a year ago.

Facebook reportedly said the transcription service can be selected by users in their Messenger settings, and added the data was anonymized before being heard by contractors.

"You're talking about this conspiracy theory that gets passed around that we listen to what's going on on your microphone and use that for ads", Zuckerberg told U.S. Senator Gary Peters in April 2018. That's led some contractors to feel their work is unethical, according to the people with knowledge of the matter. Facebook is one of TaskUs's largest and most important clients, but employees aren't allowed to mention publicly who their work is for. They call the client by the code name "Prism".

The audio recordings were generated by Messenger's voice chat transcription option, which lets users send voice messages which are then transcribed by AI for the benefit of their recipient.

But in numerous hearings in front of Congress, CEO Mark Zuckerberg insisted that Facebook only accessed people's microphones when explicitly given permission to do so for features like voice messaging.

Facebook, which just settled a record $5 billion fine with the US Federal Trade Commission for misusing users' private data, has given differing responses to reports that it uses audio recordings to better target ads or make its pages more attractive.

The murkiness of what Facebook did with these recordings is creepy, to say the least.

Facebook hasn't disclosed to users that third parties may review their audio.