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Big Revolution - Return of 'the man behind the curtain'

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Welcome to Wednesday's newsletter. Is it just me or does this week seem to be going particularly slow
 
August 14 · Issue #497 · View online
Big Revolution
Welcome to Wednesday’s newsletter. Is it just me or does this week seem to be going particularly slowly?
— Martin from Big Revolution

Big things you need to know today
  • Snap’s Spectacles are going (a little) more upmarket. The new model, launching in November, will cost $380, more than double last year’s price. They now have a metallic design and two cameras.
The big thought
Facebook Messenger. Credit: Daniel Korpai on Unsplash
Return of ‘the man behind the curtain’
Facebook Paid Contractors to Transcribe Users’ Audio Chats’ is a headline designed to make you roll your eyes and think 'not another example of tech companies listening to us without permission!’ It summons images of Mark Zuckerberg hiring lackeys to listen in on private calls through Messenger and report back to him…
Except that’s not what happened here at all.
As Bloomberg’s story explains: “[Facebook] said the users who were affected chose the option in Facebook’s Messenger app to have their voice chats transcribed”
In other words, these people opted in to having their conversations transcribed. This wasn’t totally unprompted snooping.
Now, Facebook should definitely have said 'a human may listen to your conversation to check our software is working properly,’ but I’m surprised anyone’s surprised that humans get involved, given the number of stories we’ve heard about just this.
It’s exactly 10 years now since UK startup Spinvox got caught doing the same thing with users’ voicemails. 10 years and nothing has changed!
In Facebook’s case, it says it stopped using humans to check its transcription software’s accuracy at the same time voice assistant makers did the same, a couple of weeks ago.
More 'A.I.’ than many people think is just Wizard of Oz-style 'man behind the curtain’ stuff. But to win users’ trust and keep the press at bay, tech companies need to be more open about that fact.
One big read
Three Years of Misery Inside Google, the Happiest Company in Tech Three Years of Misery Inside Google, the Happiest Company in Tech
A look at the internal identity crisis Google is suffering in Trump’s America.
One big tweet
Some parts of the world are just better at the little things…
Vlad サボ
A colleague lost/dropped his phone while cycling to work yesterday, and if you think this tweet is heading toward me telling you it was returned to him in perfect condition by the Tokyo authorities this morning, you'd be right.
5:06 AM - 14 Aug 2019
That’s all for today...
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