Facebook admits it collects users’ audio data and has it reviewed

Facebook pays hundreds of contractors to transcribe bits of audio taken from its users, according to a report in Bloomberg.

Disturbing enough, but get this: the people contracted by Facebook to do this … shady work have no idea what the purpose of such work is. These contractors, who spoke to Bloomberg on condition of anonymity lest they face some kind of disciplinary action, have no information about where the recordings come from, how they were collected, nor why Facebook wants them transcribed. They are simply given audio of Facebook users’ conversations and told to write it down.

After hearing of the practice, the Irish Data Protection Commission announced that it would be performing an investigation to see whether Facebook is in violation of the European Union’s privacy laws.

Caught red-handed (like Apple was in recent weeks), Facebook said it has already stopped the activity. Surprise, surprise. “Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” the tech giant said, the operative word being “human.” In another surprise (not), Facebook claims its users consented to having their audio recorded and transcribed. I’m sure they did so freely, voluntarily and knowingly, and not because they didn’t understand the implications of such a policy.

Founder Mark Zuckerberg was grilled about this, and many other things, during his testimony to the US Congress in 2018. He didn’t have answers of the lawmakers then, but his company submitted a few after the fact. With regard to the audio collection, Facebook said it “only accesses users’ microphone if the user have given our app permission and if they are actively using a specific feature that requires audio.”

Here’s a question for Facebook: if this is such an innocuous thing, to which users are voluntarily submitting, why discontinue it? Maybe because, as Bloomberg reports, “Facebook hasn’t disclosed to users that third parties may review their audio.”

It’s high time people initiated a mass boycott of Facebook. The company needs us far more than we need it.