SAN FRANCISCO: Facebook Inc has been paying outside contractors to transcribe audio clips from users of its services, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday (Aug 13), citing people familiar with the matter.
Facebook acknowledged the transcriptions, telling the news agency in a statement that they were made with users' permission, but that the practice has nonetheless been stopped.
"Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago," the company said.
Facebook did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Bloomberg, citing the company, reported that the users who were affected chose the option in the Messenger app to have their voice chats transcribed.
The contractors were checking whether Facebook's artificial intelligence correctly interpreted the messages.
Bloomberg said the contractors working on the project were "rattled" by listening to private audio whose origin wasn't disclosed and which sometimes contained vulgar content.
The contractors also weren't told the reason why they were doing the transcribing, the news agency reported.
Amazon, Apple and Google - all companies offering voice assistants - have previously acknowledged collecting conversations for the purpose of improving their products.
Apple and Google have in recent weeks said they've halted the practice, while Amazon gives users the option of blocking the collection of their voice by Alexa, the artificial intelligence driving their Echo voice assistant.
Shares of Facebook pared gains after the report and were up 1.66 per cent at US$188.44.
The social media company has been facing broad criticism from lawmakers and regulators over its privacy practices.
Last week, a federal appeals court rejected Facebook's effort to undo a class action lawsuit claiming that it illegally collected and stored biometric data for millions of users without their consent.
The company also agreed to pay a record US$5 billion fine last month to settle a US Federal Trade Commission data privacy probe.
Earlier this month, Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc's Google globally suspended reviewing recordings from users interacting with their voice assistants, as concerns over data privacy mount.