By Aaron Kesel
In another Facebook scandal of the year, the company has been accused of paying hundreds of outside contractors to transcribe clips of audio from users of its services, Yahoo News reported.
The work has rattled the contract employees, who are not told where the audio was recorded or how it was obtained — only to transcribe it, said the people, who requested anonymity for fear of losing their jobs. They’re hearing Facebook users’ conversations, sometimes with vulgar content, but do not know why Facebook needs them transcribed, the people said.
The revelation comes from the Irish Data Protection Commission in Europe, which said it will be examining the activity for possible violations of the EU’s strict privacy rules. Yahoo further reports that at least one contracting company known as TaskUs Inc. had employees tasked with transcribing audio and they were forbidden from saying who the company was, calling them by code name “PRISM.”
Facebook confirmed that it had been transcribing users’ audio and said it will no longer do so, following scrutiny into other companies. “Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” the company said Tuesday. The company said the users who were affected chose the option in Facebook’s Messenger app to have their voice chats transcribed.
Facebook has long denied the allegations that it records conversations despite having access to your phone’s microphone — as giving permission to access your microphone is a requirement to be able to download the site’s mobile app – thus giving the company the ability to access your phone’s mic at any time.
The app itself can listen to audio and collect audio information from users – while the two aren’t combined, and that no audio data is stored or correlated with advertising according to Facebook, after all these other lies one has to wonder.
Facebook admits it has a public feature that started in 2014 which will try to recognize any audio in the background, like music or TV— however, it’s only while you’re entering a status update, and only if you’ve opted in. So don’t worry they have required consent for everything else!
Forbes has also reported on the potential that Facebook was using its users’ audio information to target them with ads.
This is not the first time Facebook was accused of listening to conversations using smartphone microphones. Reddit user NewHoustonian started a discussion last year about whether the Facebook app was listening to conversations for advertising purposes. NewHoustonian started off the discussion with a post — which has since been removed — about how he suspects the Facebook app was listening to him because he started seeing pest control ads after talking to his girlfriend about killing a cockroach. That Reddit thread now has over 1,700 comments in regards to Facebook listening to conversations and several of those comments refer to similar experiences.
Mass communication professor at the University of South Florida, Kelli Burns, believes that Facebook is using the audio it gathers not simply to help out users, but might be doing so to listen into discussions and serve them with relevant advertising. Burns tested an experiment talking about cat food with her phone out, then loading Facebook — to her surprise she saw cat food ads, The Independent reported.
Last year, Vice reported another bizarre story about Facebook using its microphone to listen in on users. The author wrote they were talking about Japan with a friend, then subsequently received ads for flights to Tokyo.
A couple years ago, something strange happened. A friend and I were sitting at a bar, iPhones in pockets, discussing our recent trips in Japan and how we’d like to go back. The very next day, we both received pop-up ads on Facebook about cheap return flights to Tokyo. It seemed like just a spooky coincidence, but then everyone seems to have a story about their smartphone listening to them.
For a long list of past and recent Facebook scandals see this authors deep dive article entitled: “Deep Dive: FTC Negotiating Multi-Billion Dollar Fine For Facebook’s Privacy Scandals; Violating 2011 Accord.” However, the settlement of the FTC multi-billion dollar fine has already been finalized.
It turns out that arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was right: Facebook is “the most appalling spy machine that has ever been invented.” Or, as a CBS report written in 2011 stated, “Social Media Is a Tool of the CIA. Seriously.”
Speaking of PRISM as a code name for operations, the same name was used to describe one of the NSA’s tools according to whistleblower Edward Snowden. Snowden recently vowed to expose surveillance of social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, as Activist Post reported.
Big tech companies including Amazon and Apple have recently come under heavy scrutiny for collecting audio from consumer computing devices and subjecting those clips to human review, a practice that critics say invades privacy. Further, Activist Post even reported that the practice allowed Apple employees to hear your most intimate moments.
Facebook did the same thing and lied about spying on users; now the company has been fined $5 billion dollars by the FTC in a settlement for selling its user data. But that settlement is anything but adequate, failing to sufficiently protect user privacy as the EFF expressed.
It seems like Internet users for some reason forget about these massive scandals and just continue using Facebook. I would say it’s high time to “#DeleteFacebook” and join a number of growing alternative social media networks like SoMee.Social, Gab.ai, Minds.com, Steemit.com, where it’s even possible for you the reader and content producer to get paid for your comments and contributions to the platforms thanks to cryptocurrency.
Even a pre-existing option, Twitter, is better than Facebook. Jack Dorsey’s platform may have over-hypersensitive admins, but at least there hasn’t been as many privacy violations as Facebook. Although there have been some, it’s not nearly as much. On the bright side, Dorsey doesn’t seem to have a patent to spy on your current location, to keep track of your location data and predict where you are going next — Facebook does.
Image credit: The Anti-Media
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