What seemed to be an urban legend turns out to be real: GAFAs (Facebook, Apple and Amazon) have hired contractors to transcribe their audio chats for the past years.
According to Bloomberg, Facebook hired several hundreds of freelancers to manually transcribe conversations between users, in order to better target advertising.
As Facebook’s European headquarters are based in Ireland, the Irish Data Protection Commission announced last week it would start an investigation. There could be possible violations of data privacy.
Since May, Apple and Amazon have also come under fire as the both have hired thousands of employees all around the world to write conversations and requests users have told their audio softwares Siri and Alexa.
The next Cambridge Analytica?
While 2018 was supposed to be the year zero of change for Facebook, the social media does not seem to have learnt its lesson. According to an exclusive report published by Bloomberg, Mark Zuckerberg’s company hired hundreds of contractors to transcribe audio snippets from users.
This information heavily contradicts what Zuckerberg said to the U.S Senate. “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. We don’t do that.”, Facebook’s CEO said in April 2018.
#Paused not #Stopped….@TaskUs says that it's been instructed by @Facebook to pause its transcription of users audio chats but not to altogether #cancel. Whats is #Facebook needing this #UserData for? #TaskUs also works on #Election preparation and screening #Political ads pic.twitter.com/Wlj0J7znoo
— Robert Marere (@robertmarere) August 25, 2019
So far, TaskUs, a start-up based in Santa Monica has confirmed that it hired contractors to transcribe audio conversations on Facebook chats. “Facebook asked TaskUs to pause this work over a week ago, and it did,” TaskUs told Bloomberg.
While Facebook just finished paying off its $8 billion settlement after Cambridge Analytica, it looks like another scandal might be on its way.
Other GAFAs are involved
Not only this might tarnish a little bit more Facebook’s reputation, but Amazon and Apple might also be involved.
As many technology skeptics were suggesting, it seems that Siri – Apple’s artificial intelligence service as well as Alexa – Amazon’s artificial intelligence device – might also have been spying on their users.
Yep, Google also has humans listening to recordings from the assistant for transcription. Lots of these recordings are accidental and revealingly personal. What say ye, @apple, is Siri recordings outsourced to contractors for transcription too? https://t.co/Ez51YaaJ3g
— DHH (@dhh) July 11, 2019
According to Bloomberg, thousands of contractors were both hired by the two Silicon Valley giants in order to transcribe what the users were saying to their devices.
Amazon and Apple have confirmed they would “opt out for human review” as the information leaked.
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Scandal shows AI’s limits
This news might however show a silver lining: artificial intelligence is not yet fully independent. As a matter of fact, Facebook confirmed to Bloomberg that although it tried to automate the transcribing of its users’ chats, it needed human intelligence to complete the work.
While several “whistleblowers” informed Bloomberg of the project of their tasks, they all asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing their jobs.
— CNN (@CNN) May 1, 2019
Many investors have vividly reacted as Zuckerberg’s catch phrase during his last keynote back in April was: “The future is private.”. As users were not informed that their audio files would be used by third parties, this might be another privacy breach that could severely hinder Facebook’s credibility, only a few months after Cambridge Analytica.
Moreover, other GAFAs might be involved as well. Earlier this year, Microsoft reportedly listened to its users’ conversations on Skype, while Google allowed human review of audio data, without its users’ knowledge.
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