Facebook voice-to-text Messenger users got no warning of human transcribers

Wow, this is really something, even for a company as awful as Facebook.

“Facebook users who opted into voice-to-text in Messenger had NO warning about human transcribers.”

Earlier this week, Facebook confirmed it ran a program that allowed contractors to listen in on and write down the contents of some Facebook Messenger users’ audio clips. Facebook said that only users who'd consented to have their audio messages transcribed were affected, which implies the users clicked a box somewhere that said they knew the content would listened to or read by third parties.

“But based on a look at the Messenger permissions pop-up dialogue box, they didn’t,” writes Bloomberg's Sarah Frier:

In the Messenger mobile app, as soon as someone sends a voice message, they get a prompt asking, “Turn on Voice to Text in this chat?” Above the “No” and “Yes” buttons, Facebook describes the option: “Display text of voice clips you send and receive. You can control whether text is visible to you for each chat.”

There is no mention of human involvement. Even in a separate information page in the app dedicated to understanding Voice to Text, Facebook explains that users can turn it off for each chat, and prompts people to use it more. “Voice to Text uses machine learning,” it says. “The more you use this feature, the more Voice to Text can help you.” There’s no explanation that machine learning doesn’t just involve software code.

Companies including Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google have been relying on humans to check and improve their artificial intelligence systems -- they’re just not telling their users about it. That’s a critical lapse at a time when all of the companies -- especially Facebook -- are facing regulatory scrutiny for privacy lapses. The Irish Data Protection Commissioner, in charge of enforcing European Union privacy laws, said it was looking into Facebook’s transcription practices.

Facebook Transcription Opt-In Says Nothing About Human Listeners [bloomberg.com]