Facebook hired people to transcribe voice calls made on Messenger

Key Points
  • Facebook has been listening to and transcribing conversations held through Facebook Messenger.
  • The company stopped the practice last week, according to a Facebook spokesperson.
  • Amazon, Google and Apple have also used humans to listen to voice recordings through their respective digital assistants.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg leaves the Elysee Palace after a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Aurelien Meunier | French Select | Getty Images

Facebook contractors were listening to and transcribing select voice conversations that were held using its Facebook Messenger chat platform, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday. The company reportedly had the contractors transcribe chats in an effort to improve artificial intelligence.

Facebook shares dipped slightly after Bloomberg published its story, but shares were still up more than 1% for the day.

"Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago," a Facebook spokesperson told CNBC.

Other companies have done or are doing the same thing to improve voice recognition in products such as Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri.

Apple recently halted a program that allowed employees to listen to a small percentage of Siri voice requests, which are often otherwise handled directly on the device. Google stopped doing the same in Europe where, as in the U.S., Google Assistant queries are sent to the cloud for processing. Amazon does the same for Alexa, but recently rolled out tools that let users opt out of having their questions analyzed by humans.

Facebook doesn't have a public voice assistant like Alexa or Siri, however, which makes the report a bit more concerning. Its portal device uses Amazon Alexa, for example. The company has been working on one since 2018, however.

Regulators in Ireland expressed concern about Facebook's actions. "Further to our ongoing engagement with Google, Apple and Microsoft in relation to the processing of personal data in the context of the manual transcription of audio recordings, we are now seeking detailed information from Facebook on the processing in question and how Facebook believes that such processing of data is compliant with their GDPR obligations," the Irish Data Protection Commission told CNBC.

Read the full Bloomberg story here.

Subscribe to CNBC on YouTube.

Monopoly: Are Apple, Google, Facebook & Amazon Fair Game? | Fortt Knox
Monopoly: Are Apple, Google, Facebook & Amazon Fair Game? | Fortt Knox