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Sen. Peters demands answers from Zuckerberg on why Facebook contractors listened to private audio messages

Zuckerberg told Peters during a Senate hearing last year that the idea of Facebook listening to the microphone and using it for ads is a “conspiracy theory.”

Senator Gary Peters has sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg demanding that he explain what Facebook does with user audio and why it was sending some audio messages to third-party contractors for transcription.

Peters is sending the letter in response to Facebook’s recent admission that it was sending audio transcriptions to hundreds of paid contractors from 2015 until the start of August 2019.

During a Senate hearing last April, Peters quizzed Zuckerberg on whether Facebook uses audio obtained from mobile devices to enrich personal information about its users. Zuckerberg told him “no” and then expanded on this answer by saying:

“You’re talking about this conspiracy theory that gets passed around, that we listen to what’s going on on your microphone and we use that for ads. We don’t do that.

To be clear, we do allow people to take videos on their devices and often share those and of course, videos often have audio, so we do, while you’re taking the video, record that and use that to make the service better by making sure that your videos have audio. I mean that I think is pretty clear but I just wanted to make sure I was exhaustive there.”

Facebook’s recent admission about audio transcriptions means that these transcriptions were being sent to third-party contractors when Peters asked Zuckerberg this question.

Zuckerberg’s answers don’t necessarily contradict Facebook’s statement because the company claims that voice chat recordings data was anonymized and that the transcriptions were being used to measure the accuracy of is artificial intelligence (AI) when interpreting messages.

However, Peters believes that Zuckerberg’s previous testimony “appears to have been, at best, incomplete” and is sending the letter to “better understand the exact nature, extent, and purpose of Facebook’s use of user audio recordings and its broader use of user data.”

In the letter, Peters notes that Zuckerberg acknowledged in written responses following his testimony that Facebook accesses users audio when “opted in” and “using a particular Facebook service” but he believes Facebook failed to articulate on what it actually does with the audio accessed under those circumstances:

“Never in your follow-up responses did you articulate what you do with the audio accessed under those circumstances, the extent of Facebook’s use of this practice, or the reasons for the discrepancy in your testimony on this issue during the hearing.”

Peters goes on to say that the revelations about Facebook sending audio recordings to third-party contractors is coming just a few weeks after the company’s privacy settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) which included a fine of just one month’s revenue and indemnified Facebook against all past privacy violations – even those never made public.

To gain more clarity in this area, Peters is asking Zuckerberg:

“1. For what use and purpose does Facebook collect, transcribe, and/or analyze audio conversations of its users?

2. For which Facebook products or services, including entities and applications owned by Facebook, are audio communications collected, transcribed, or analyzed?

3. What is the process by which users opted in to have their audio transcribed for the Facebook Messenger App?

4. When users were asked to opt in to having their audio transcribed, was it made clear to them that this transcription would be done by human beings?

5. Please provide a detailed explanation of all of Facebook’s uses for the transcribed audio that Facebook has collected.

6. How does Facebook secure and safeguard audio files collected from users, including files sent to third parties and contractors, and what retention policies apply to these third parties?

7. Does Facebook or the third parties receiving Facebook’s user information have the ability to modify transcripts of audio recordings?

8. Does Facebook use audio files for ad targeting?

9. Does Facebook sell audio data or the transcripts of its users’ conversations to third parties? If yes, do those third parties use the information received for targeted advertising? Please provide a copy of any contract entered into with a third party regarding the sale of user audio data or transcripts.

10. Please provide a copy of all contracts for audio transcription.

11. Please provide all documents related to obtaining a user’s consent to have their audio transcribed.”

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