Now This: Facebook has Human Contractors Looking at Users’ Personal Posts to Train an AI System

A news report reveals Facebook is using contract workers to look at users’ personal posts to classify the content to train AI systems…

Just late last month, we learned Facebook stashed billions of dollars away to pay hefty privacy fines. Soon after, the Canadian government alleged the social site broke privacy laws, suing the company in federal court.

Now, a Reuters news report reveals more trouble might be ahead for the world’s largest social network. 

Facebook Contract Workers Looking at Personal User Posts to Train AI Systems

Reuters reports it has learned through several employees the company is using human contractors to look at personal posts to train AI systems. Facebook itself confirmed most of what was revealed:

“The workers categorize items according to five “dimensions,” as Facebook calls them. These include the subject of the post – is it food, for example, or a selfie or an animal? What is the occasion – an everyday activity or major life event? And what is the author’s intention – to plan an event, to inspire, to make a joke?

The work is aimed at understanding how the types of things users post on its services are changing, Facebook said. That can help the company develop new features, potentially increasing usage and ad revenue […]

The labeling efforts have not previously been reported [and the work] is among about 200 content labeling projects that Facebook has at any time, employing thousands of people globally, company officials told Reuters […] Facebook confirmed labelers in Romania and the Philippines are involved in the same project.”

Facebook states its’ choosing random content, posts which don’t include personal details. However, the social platform acknowledges some content could display usernames.

Although largely allowable by general standards, legal experts warn the practice could violate the GDPR:

“The European Union’s year-old General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has strict rules about how companies gather and use personal data and in many cases requires specific consent.

‘One of the key pieces of GDPR is purpose limitation,’ said John Kennedy, a partner at law firm Wiggin and Dana who has worked on outsourcing, privacy and AI.

If the purpose is looking at posts to improve the precision of services, that should be stated explicitly, Kennedy said. Using an outside vendor for the work could also require consent, he said.”

Facebook maintains users are properly informed:

“We make it clear in our data policy that we use the information people provide to Facebook to improve their experience and that we might work with service providers to help in this process.”

Ashley Lipman

Ashley Lipman is a super-connector with Outreachmama who helps businesses find their audience online through outreach, partnerships, and networking.