BBC Investigation Raises Privacy Concerns Over Spinvox

Spinvox, a voice-to-text messaging service that claims to use advanced voice recognition technology to convert voice mail to text, backpedaled Thursday in the face of allegations raised by a recent BBC investigation.

The Spinvox website claims its technology “captures spoken words and feeds them into a Voice Message Conversion System, known as ‘D2’ (the Brain)”, however claims made to the BBC indicate Spinvox “converts” at least some messages by having them transcribed by human call center employees located in South Africa and the Philippines.

“Speech algorithms do not learn without human intervention and all speech systems require humans for learning,” the firm said in a statement, adding, “the actual proportion of messages automatically converted is highly confidential and sensitive data.”

The row appears to have stemmed from a Facebook group created by staff at an Egyptian call center with which Spinvox had a previous connection. The Facebook group posted photos and audio recordings implicating Spinvox in violations of its own Privacy Policy, which the company denied in no uncertain terms, saying the call center had only been used for training and never handled any live calls.

The BBC, however, interviewed a former employee of the center, who said he worked there for six months, alongside as many as 150 others.

He said that after initial training, he went on to transcribe live messages. Asked what part machines played he said, “It was done 100% by people”.

Other call centre staff in South Africa and the Philippines have discussed on blogs how they have also transcribed calls for Spinvox, according to the BBC report.

Official concern over the allegations against Spinvox centers on questions about the company’s data protection policy and actually has little to do with whether it uses people or machines to transcribe voice mail.

Because the company’s entry on the UK Data Protection Register says it does not transfer anything outside the European Economic Area, utilizing call centers in Africa, Asia and the Middle East has officials at the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office looking into the matter further.