Facebook Inc. has been paying hundreds of outside contractors to transcribe clips of audio from users of its services, according to people with knowledge of the work.
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.
On Wednesday, the Irish Data Protection Commission, which takes the lead in overseeing Facebook in Europe, said it was examining the activity for possible violations of the EU’s strict privacy rules.
Shares of the social-media giant were down 1.3% at 7:49 a.m. in New York during pre-market trading.
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. The contractors were checking whether Facebook’s artificial intelligence correctly interpreted the messages, which were anonymized.