How to Opt Out of Facebook Messenger Audio to Protect Your Conversations

Facebook confirmed it has had third-party contractors transcribing audio of chats on its Messenger app, but said it recently paused the practice.

If you've used Facebook's popular Messenger app, there's a chance that someone working for Facebook has listened to recordings of your audio chats.

A report by Bloomberg found that Facebook has been paying hundreds of outside contractors to transcribe clips of audio from its users, citing "people with knowledge of the work" who were told to transcribe the audio without being informed how and where it was obtained.

Facebook confirmed to NBC News that it had engaged in the practice but said that it "paused human review of audio more than a week ago."

The company added that the only users affected chose a transcription option in their Messenger app and that it masked the audio so the users' identities were not revealed to third-party transcribers.

Third-party contractors told Bloomberg they felt the work was unethical because users didn't know their audio would be reviewed and transcribed.

Facebook told NBC News it was reviewing the audio to make sure its artificial intelligence was working properly.

The latest privacy issue for the social media giant comes after the company was fined $5 billion by the Federal Trade Commission following an investigation into its privacy practices.

Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg denied before Congress last year that the company is "listening" to its users by collecting audio to place ads or adjust a user's news feed.

"You're talking about this conspiracy theory that gets passed around that we listen to what's going on in your microphone and use that for ads,'' he told Sen. Gary Peters. "We don't do that."

Apple, Google and Amazon have also been criticized for having audio from virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa reviewed by employees or third-party contractors. They all have either stopped the practice completely or allowed users to opt out.

Even though Facebook has said it has paused its human reviews of audio chats on Messenger, here are steps you can take to protect the privacy of your audio:

  1. Select "no" when the prompt comes up asking you if you want to turn on voice to text for a chat, and go through any chats where the feature is enabled and turn it off.
  2. Prevent the Facebook app from accessing the microphone on your phone. For iPhones, go to Settings, then tap on the Facebook app and turn off microphone access. On Android phones, go to Settings, then "Apps and notifications," then pull up the Facebook app, tap on Permissions, then microphone, and then hit "Deny."
  3. Use the "secret conversation" option in Facebook, which is encrypted on both ends and contains no way for a voice message to be transcribed.
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