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Facebook paid contractors to transcribe Messenger calls

The social network says it halted the process last week.

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Facebook was paying contractors to listen to and transcribe Messenger audio.

Angela Lang/CNET

Facebook last week halted a program in which it was paying third-party contractors to listen to and transcribe audio clips from its users, the company said Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Bloomberg reported on the existence of the program and the fact it had been stopped. The contractors had no knowledge of where the audio was being recorded or how it was obtained, Bloomberg reported, citing people who'd held these contracting jobs.

"Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago," a Facebook spokesperson confirmed to CNET in an emailed statement.

AppleGoogle and Amazon recently suspended human review of user audio recordings after it emerged the companies were using contractors to listen in on recordings from devices that use their respective voice assistants: Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa. Like those three companies, the social network said it was using the transcripts to check the accuracy of its artificial intelligence system in transcribing Facebook Messenger voice chats, the report said.

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Facebook reportedly said affected users had selected the option to have their voice chats transcribed in their Messenger settings, and added that the data associated with the recordings was anonymized before being listened to by contractors.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had previously told the US Senate that Facebook doesn't "listen to what's going on on your microphone and use that for ads ... we don't do that."

Originally published Aug. 13, 12:45 p.m. PT.
Update, 1:11 p.m.: Adds confirmation and comment from Facebook.