Facebook has confirmed to Bloomberg that it wasn't just collecting the audio of voice messages sent in its Messenger app and having contractors transcribe it — it was doing the same with the audio of people interacting with its Portal video-conferencing hardware too.
In August, Bloomberg reported that Facebook collects and uses audio data transcribed by human contractors to check the accuracy of its speech recognition systems. After this information came out, the company said that it had "paused" the practice, which was used on voice messages sent through Messenger. At the time, it wasn't known that Facebook was also collecting and transcribing commands given to its Portal devices, but it was, and the practice was also paused.
As Bloomberg's Sarah Frier reported last month, some contractors transcribing the voice messages felt that what they were doing was unethical, because Messenger users weren't aware that Facebook could send audio of their messages to third parties for transcription.
With the launch of a new Portal device lineup, Facebook confirmed it had previously collected audio from users who activated the device via a "Hey Portal" command and sent it to third parties to transcribe.
"We paused human review of the 'Hey Portal' voice interactions last month while we worked on a plan that gave people more transparency and control, including a way to turn it off," Facebook executive Andrew Bosworth told Bloomberg.
Facebook is now resuming human audio transcription on Portal devices, but giving users the option to opt out. Importantly, this means that users automatically allow Facebook data collection and transcription unless they change their default settings. This Portal software update will be distributed to existing devices, and be included in the October lineup.
Facebook also said transcription of Messenger voice messages remains paused.