Facebook in new row over sharing users’ data with moderators
Published 05/03/2012 | 08:41
New information about Facebook’s outsourced moderation process shows that the social network shares more personal information with moderators than it has so far acknowledged.
The social network was criticized last week after gossip site Gawker exposed it as employing third-party content moderators in the developing world for one dollar an hour.
Facebook responded saying: “No user information beyond the content in question and the source of the report is shared.”
However, new evidence seen by The Telegraph, shows that these moderators, who have to deal with the distressing images and messages which are reported every day, and are clearly able to see the names of the person who uploaded the ‘offensive’ content, the subject of the image or person tagged in a photo - in addition to the person who has reported the content.
Moreover, there are currently no security measures in place stopping these moderators taking screen shots of people's personal photos, videos and posts.
When challenged about the data displayed on the screenshots shown to The Telegraph by an ex-Facebook moderator, a spokesman for the social network said: “On Facebook, the picture alone is not the content. In evaluating potential violations of our rules it is necessary to consider who was tagged and by whom, and well as additional content such as comments…Everything displayed is to give content reviewers the necessary information to make the right, accurate decision.”
The former Facebook moderator, 21 year-old Amine Derkaoui from Morocco, has shown The DAIly Telegraph several screenshots of what these outsourced workers see when deciding if a piece of content is suitable to be on the site.
Derkaoui, who was employed by oDesk – the company Facebook used to employ outsourced content moderators, claimed here was no decent security at all through the content system and looking at each report – was like “looking at a friend’s Facebook page”– that’s how much information was on there.
He has since looked up information online about the people he had been moderating.
Security experts are concerned about the amount of personal information Facebook is allowing these poorly paid third-party workers in the developing world access to.
Graham Cluley, of the British internet security firm Sophos, said: “When people report content on Facebook, I don’t think they expect all of their details to end up in India, with someone who doesn’t directly work for Facebook…By sharing information about a Facebook account holder, there is obviously the potential for abuse and blackmail.
“Some of the photos that people post, which under Facebook’s rules may be deemed inappropriate, such as your children running around naked or a mum breastfeeding, could still end up on the open internet, if a moderator, who is able to copy the images, publishes them.”
Cluley is calling for Facebook to improve its content moderation system as it currently relies upon people to report offensive material, which is not always done as quickly as possible.
“There is a lot of obscene material on Facebook which stays up there for a long time, until someone spots in. The company needs to improve the moderation so that there is some kind of in-built scanner which will prevent the awful stuff from going up in the first place,” he explains.
Philip James, a privacy specialist at Pitmans law firm, says the onus is on Facebook to ensure it improves the security around the content system which these third party workers are using so they cannot easily take screen shots of people’s information.
“Facebook should be carrying out better due diligence on the systems its third party contractors are using to ensure they are secure and not open to images and information being easily exported by these workers,” he explained.
Derkaoui, who now works for a New York-based technology company Zenoradio, having quit his oDesk job out of protest against the poor wages, was never explicitly told that the site he was moderating was Facebook, (as the social is secretive about the obscene material which people upload every day). He is now calling for cash-rich Facebook to increase the wages it pays these workers.
“Facebook has to increase these wages. One dollar an hour is the lowest wage at oDesk and I believe it must be the worst salary paid by Facebook. They also have to recruit people to do this job from around the world, not only those from the third world… And they need to keep users’ data private too."
The social network has not made a comment about these third party workers' rate of pay.
A spokesman for the social network said: "These contractors are subject to rigorous quality controls and we have implemented several layers of safeguards to protect the data of those using our service."
Facebook refused to tell The Telegraph whether or not it was still using oDesk’s services. And oDesk failed to return any calls on this subject.
Last week Derkaoui revealed to Gawker the bizarre set of content rules which Facebook uses when deciding whether or not a piece of content is allowed.
For instance, an image containing “any OBVIOUS sexual activity, even if naked parts are hidden from view” must be deleted - while “deep flesh wounds”, “excessive blood” and “crushed heads, limbs”, are acceptable as long as no insides are showing.
He said the poorly paid work of content moderation was extremely distressing.
“The job was upsetting – no one likes to see a human cut into pieces every day,” Derkaoui told The Telegraph. “No one from oDesk or Facebook appeared to care about the psychological condition of the moderators."
Facebook has not made a specific comment on this point.
Derkaoui added: “I was paid one dollar an hour, plus small commissions for four hours a day. Generally with four hours of work, you can get six to seven dollars a day. We worked during weekends too.”
While Facebook has its own internal content moderation team, outsourcing this type of work is considered normal across many technology firms, as the companies grow so fast.
Facebook now has more than 850 million members, employs more than 3,200 full time people and has just moved into a huge new campus in the US – which can hold 9,000 members of staff.
When it floats later this year, it is expected to break technology records, with a $100bn valuation.