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Security & privacy

Now Facebook is labeling your private posts

Facebook just keeps finding new ways to invade our privacy. The latest? It has been taking our private posts and labeling them so it can better train its artificial intelligence algorithms.

Employees at a company in India came out anonymously to describe work they are doing for Facebook. Word of this labeling of posts comes just days after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the company would be focusing on protecting users’ information and privacy.

What does Facebook label?

Facebook contract workers around the world randomly select users’ posts and label them under such topics as subject, occasion and the poster’s intent. While reports of the program are new, Facebook has been labeling content for at least a year on posts dating back to 2014. Facebook-owned Instagram posts also are being labeled.

When asked by various media outlets about the labeling, the company confirmed the process and stated it was part of an effort to train its A.I. so as to offer more relevant content to users and advertisers. So if someone posts a lot of dog photos, they will likely start getting more ads for pet-related products.

Facebook uses thousands of contract workers around the world to select and label posts. Posts and photos chosen randomly do not include details of who posted them, according to Facebook. However, the social media giant did concede that posts with comments or screenshots may show usernames.

Users cannot opt out of the random-selection process. Facebook also stated that, “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.”

But that explanation may not fly in the European Union. Legal experts said the labeling practice may be illegal if it includes content posted by European Union citizens, as it could breach the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation requirements.

What privacy?

News of Facebook’s post-labeling project comes just days after the annual Facebook Developers Conference, where Zuckerberg declared in his keynote speech that “the future is private.”

“I get that a lot of people aren’t sure we’re serious about this,” Zuckerberg said with a nervous laugh during his speech. “We don’t exactly have the strongest reputation on privacy right now, to put it lightly.”

He made his comments as he discussed Facebook splitting in two, which itself came on the heels of the company looking at a $3 billion to $5 billion fine from the Federal Trade Commission. The fine is for not doing enough to protect account holders’ privacy. Facebook has had a string of security mishaps and questionable actions over the past year.

Zuckerberg said he wants to create two distinct spaces: a public forum or “town square,” and a private encrypted space or “living room.”

The “town square” would be focused on friends and family. The “living room” would be solely for pages account holders’ like, allowing for private, encrypted chats. For companies of all kinds — including news outlets — that means having to buy ad space to be seen in the “town square.”

Experts say the split could limit Facebook’s ability to gather personal data, something lawmakers and consumers have been calling on the company to do since the Cambridge Analytica fiasco.

With this latest news of Facebook taking user posts to strengthen its algorithms, it’s understandable if the public doesn’t buy Zuckerberg’s vision of a private future.

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