The scandals keep on coming for Facebook. The embattled firm continues to admit to violations of user privacy, in the newest case recording and transcribing user conversations. Many people joke that Facebook must be recording their conversations, as they often see ads on Facebook for goods or services that they just recently spoke about with someone. But the company strenuously denied any recording… until now.
Facebook admitted that not only was it recording the conversations of its users, it was hiring third-party contractors to transcribe those conversations. The ostensible purpose of those transcriptions was to determine whether Facebook’s artificial intelligence programs were correctly interpreting voice conversations. But many of the contractors who ended up transcribing those conversations felt uncomfortable listening in to private conversations and then transcribing them. And what ended up happening to those conversations? Does Facebook still have records of them? Who knows.
Facebook isn’t alone in violating user privacy in this way. Both Amazon and Apple have also faced criticism and scrutiny for their recording of private user conversations. In all cases the companies claim that only users who specifically opted in to having their conversations recorded or transcribed were recorded. But as with many computer program installations and end user license agreements, many people don’t actually know what they’re agreeing to, nor do they understand what the various opt-ins or opt-outs actually mean because they’re intentionally written in an obtuse manner to confuse users.
In the case of Facebook, the company claimed that only users of Facebook Messenger who opted in to having their conversations recorded were affected, but how did that opt-in actually work? In many cases computer and phone browsers allow programs and websites to access cameras or microphones by default, meaning that many people may be surreptitiously recorded without their knowledge.
It’s far past time for companies that engage in these shady privacy violations to be held responsible for their actions. Saying “Whoops, our bad” just doesn’t cut it. Big tech companies are quickly becoming the Big Brother that we once feared, and they need to be reined in.