Facebook pays contractors to transcribe users’ audio chats

Credit: SN1 Digital

Facebook has claimed that it has paid external human contractors to listen to recordings of users without their knowledge.

The social network is no stranger to privacy scandals. Facebook was infamously embroiled in a scandal with Cambridge Analytica in which the data of 87 million users was harvested; more recently, the company has banned ad supplier Hyp3r from delivering ads to Instagram.

Now, Facebook has admitted to hiring people to listen to audio conversations carried out on Facebook Messenger. Contractors were asked to re-transcribe conversations in order to improve the accuracy of Facebook’s automatic transcription tool.

According to one Facebook contractor, some of the voice recordings included full addresses, personal information and conversations that “could clearly be described as phone sex.”

CEO and founder of the company Mark Zuckerberg denied listening into users’ conversations last year. “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,” Zuckerberg told US Senator Gary Peters in April 2018. “We don’t do that.”


It’s extremely common for humans to oversee the precision of automated systems, however, this latest incident is the latest in the long line of tech giants admitting to listening to their users without their consent.

In April, Bloomberg claimed that Amazon was employing human quality assurance for Alexa. Contractors were reported as listening into “upsetting, or possibly criminal” recordings. VRT revealed in July that Google conducts similar tests, after one contractor leaked more than 1,000 audio clips. Google paused the practice after the voice clips were leaked.

A week after that, the Guardian reported on Apple being the latest company to hire human contractors to “grade” Siri. “A small portion of Siri requests are analysed to improve Siri and Dictation,” the company claimed at the time. “Siri responses are analysed in secure facilities and all reviewers are under the obligation to adhere to Apple’s strict confidentiality requirements.”

The practice stopped “more than a week ago”, Facebook claim.

Luke Conrad

Technology & Marketing Enthusiast