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Facebook Transcription Opt-In Says Nothing About Human Listeners (bloomberg.com)
98 points by askafriend 62 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 34 comments

I hope they had "permission" from both sides of the conversations that they recorded in states that require two-party/all-party consent. Otherwise, this is more than just a privacy issue, it's criminal.

Did the license agreement for messenger mention recording? If so they're probably covered.

My guess is that the T&C grants permission for FB to record the primary user, and then the liability for recording (via FB) _other_ people falls on the primary user for recording while other people were talking?

I'm gonna make a bold prediction and say that exactly 0.0% of users were aware that they had this liability and acted on it.

If I make a product for millions of users and every single one breaks the law in the exact same way using my product, and common sense dictates that avoiding breaking the law with my product is near impossible, and I hide this fact in a a tiny disclaimer somewhere, am I completely innocent?

We are talking about a product with a 100.0% criminal ratio here. A product that for all intends and purposes cannot be used in even the most trivial manner without breaking the law.

I wouldn't be surprised if there were meetings where they distinctly decided that the user should not even be able to discover that liability, and chose their wording accordingly.

That’s not how criminal law works.

I don't know why you're being downvoted, this is correct. You can't "waive liability" for a crime. If a conversation was recorded without consent in a two-party state, then a crime was commited. And absent a carve-out in the law, I don't see how the party that actually made and retained that recording (Facebook) wouldn't be prosecutable. Absolutely no EULA term is going to get them out of that.

That said: they won't be prosecuted criminally, because this isn't really the spirit of the law and prosecutors aren't generally in the habit of taking on giant corporations for putatively useful technologies. It's much more likely that they'll pay a fine and stop doing it. No one is going to court.

If I use Facebook voice-to-text around you, why is that different from using a traditional recording device without your consent? Isn't that on me, not whomever listens to that recording?

Typically, intent is the distinguisher. You intended for the interaction to be transient and transactional—you say something and text appears on the screen. In reality and without your knowledge, the service provider intentionally recorded, kept, and shared that data. That puts the service provider at fault as they are the ones that arranged for he recording to happen, if if you are he one that pushed the button.

They probably configured it to always cross state lines to one of their out of state datacenters.

This is a surprise to ~no one here, but this is absolutely a surprise to at least a large portion of the general population. Why? Because they don't know how these things are developed, even at a high level. To most people, systems like these are a black box; they talk to it, it outputs text. They don't think -- or need to think -- about what the system is actually doing. There's nothing wrong with that.

Another weird thing I've noticed recently (in the context of Brexit and the relaxing of standards but hey) is that people can simultaneously think:

1) They wouldn't let X do Y.

2) We need less regulation.

Add to it

3)They should ban Z from doing W

at the same time.

Is it any real surprise that policy and legislation in this country is so far behind technology? Of course not - the legislators and constituents are largely unaware of how deep data collection goes, and a lot of the watchdogs have a vested interest in keeping quiet (paychecks, profits).

It doesn't leave much left for the watchdogs who have been screaming our eyeballs out over how pervasive and overstepping this has become.

Has there ever been a time in history when a technology was so ubiquitous with so few people knowing how it actually works?

Cars, television, plumbing all come to mind

I think about this a lot, and how it happens in the Foundation novels. A whole galaxy-wide civilization with FTL spaceships and everything - but where nobody knows how anything works. The story vaguely resembles The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which is also frequently discussed as an analogue for current times.

`SELECT * FROM technologies;`

Internet, radio, electricity, solar panels, lawn mowers...

Electricity and all the things we use it for is and was

For the average person: light bulbs, air conditioners, refrigerators, microwaves, radios, etc., etc.

Perhaps but I think there’s a difference. I don’t know how refrigerators work, but I can guess and within a few guesses I’ll probably get close.

I don’t know if everyone can guess how comp tech works. I’ve heard comments about how hard it must be to code how software works. Or to understand that so much can happen behind the scenes

I think most people probably can't guess how a refrigerator works. Maybe if they remember high school physics, but I wouldn't put money on it.

Maybe I'm just pessimistic but I think you're overestimating the understanding of science the average person has.


Companies go out of their way to give you the illusion of privacy even though it’s BS for many reasons (including legitimate ones like debugging).

Maybe the other reason is that people expect accountability and legal consequences for companies that lie, but Facebook still being around clearly shows the legal systems of most countries don’t give a shit.

Probably because the majority of the people using Facebook are neither programmers or employees that handle data so don't know the laws or methods used.

So I would argue there isn't common sense around this issue because it's not a common issue for people.

I mean, if I give you a voice recorder, let you record secret stuff on it and give it back to me, do you really think it's reasonable to expect me to never listen to it under any circumstances? Really? It's not a technically complicated thing to think through is it?

There's a way of phrasing the arrangement that makes it sound obvious, but that's not how it's ever been phrased to consumers. I don't think that's a conclusion ordinary people are equipped to reach on their own.

To be frank, we live in a world where consumers are apparently too stupid to understand what the "www" in a URL means, or that signing into a browser is different than signing into Google, but are also expected to understand that the magical witch-lady that caries out intelligent conversations during Superbowl commercials has to rely on manual classification by low-payed contractors in a low-security facility.

If we in the tech community are annoyed that ordinary people don't realize that technology isn't magic, it's kind of our own fault.

I personally think privacy is a continuum, and while I recognize that technically a company might hand-process some data, I have expectations about how often they'd do it, and what the context would be.

Isn't it reasonable to expect that some tasks in a company (putting passwords into a database, scanning emails to update a calendar, etc...) shouldn't be handled by humans? If I tell an ordinary person that 'Google' is reading their emails, on average I think they're going to substitute 'Google' with 'a computer', not 'Greg from Sales.' Voice assistants and AI are the same way -- people assume the process is completely automated.

> Signing into a browser is different than signing into Google

Experienced this one from a family member recently. Wasn't possible to get through annoyingly.

If you buy a voice recorder to record your voice, you obviously know it is recording your voice.

My parents, bless their hearts, can't even grasp the difference between a browser and an operating system. You're telling me they should just know the intricacies of data processing through... osmosis?

Non-technical people may think that the data is being processed locally, if they even think about the data at all.

That's a nice strawman argument but it's not the scenario actually being played out. People may think that the talk to text option is no different than storing predictive text models on their own phone. That IS technically harder to think of because as I have stated most people don't know how that works and how much processing is needed for it.

There is a reason Facebook intentionally hid it's intent and usage and that's because participation would be markedly lower. Their motto is ask for forgiveness later and to hell with user privacy.

Every time I encounter the claim that something is “common sense”, either the claim is false, or it’s not common knowledge.

I believe most people neither know nor care how their devices and services function.

I also blame the victims.

Victims are free to quantify their damages and sue FB.

They're still, what's the term Zuckerberg used? Dumb fucks? Yeah that's the one. They're dumb fucks.

Of course they are. They're humans. And a society and government of humans should be geared towards the needs of actual, fallible, gullible humans and not towards people who are experts on everything.

Being surprised about this is like playing with radioactive sludge and then being surprised when you get cancer.

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