NEW YORK (AP) – Facebook has paid contractors to transcribe audio clips from users of its Messenger service, raising privacy concerns for a company with a history of privacy lapses.
Until recently, the practice was common in the technical industry. Companies say that using people helps improve their services. However, users are usually unaware that humans and not just computers undergo audio.
Transcripts made by people raise greater concerns because of the potential for rogue employees or entrepreneurs to leak information. Google's practice emerged after some of the Dutch audio excerpts were leaked. More than 1,000 recordings were obtained by Belgian broadcaster VRT NWS, who noted that some contained sensitive personal conversations ̵
"We feel we have some control over machines," said Jamie Winterton, director of strategy at Arizona State University's Global Security Initiative. “You have no control over people that way. There is no way once a human knows anything about dragging that piece of data to the trash. "
Jeffrey Chester, CEO of the Center for Digital Democracy Privacy Explanation Group, said it is bad enough that Facebook is using artificial intelligence as part of its data monitoring activities. He said the use of people is also "even more alarming."
Tim Bajarin, technical columnist and president of Creative Strategies, said there is a bigger problem when people use the information beyond their intended purpose.
Facebook said audio excerpts that were assessed by contractors were masked so as not to reveal anyone's identity. It said it stopped the practice a week ago. The development was previously reported by Bloomberg.
Google said it suspended doing so worldwide while investigating the Dutch leaks. Apple has also suspended people's use of the Siri digital assistant, although they plan to bring them back after explicit permission from users. Amazon said it still uses humans, but users can reject or opt out of human transcripts.
A report from the technical news site Motherboard last week said that Microsoft is also using human transcripts with some Skype calls and commands that were spoken to Microsoft's digital assistant. , Cortana. Microsoft said in a statement that it has guarantees such as stripping identifying data and requiring non-disclosure agreements with contractors and their employees. Still, leaked details to the motherboard.
After the motherboard report, Microsoft said it "could do a better job" and explained that people are listening to the conversations. It updated its frequently asked questions to Skype to say that use of the translation service "may include transcription of audio recordings by Microsoft employees and vendors."
It makes sense to use human transcripts to train artificial intelligence systems, Winterton said. But the problem is that companies lead people to believe that only machines listen to sound, cause miscommunication and distrust, she said.
"We collect content, communications and other information you provide when using our products, including when you sign up for an account, create or share content, and report or communicate with others," reads Facebook's data usage policy. It does not mention audio or voice specifically or uses transcripts.
Bajarin said technology companies need to use more methods to refine artificial intelligence software, as digital voice assistants and speech-to-text technology are still new. But he said that being more clear about human engagement is "the very smallest" companies can do.
"They should be very clear about what their policy is and about consumer messages or what it will be seen," he said. so. "If humans are part of the process of analysis that must also be stated."
Irish data protection regulators say they are seeking more information from Facebook to assess compliance with European data rules. The agency's statement says it has also had "ongoing engagement with Google, Apple and Microsoft" during the problem, although Amazon was not mentioned.
Facebook is already under investigation in many other ways it has misused user data. A $ 5 billion fine was agreed to settle a US Federal Trade Commission to investigate privacy practices.
Lerman reported from San Francisco.