I woke up this morning to see Spinvox, a service I have treasured for the last two years, on the homepage of the BBC website under the headline “voice technology firm under fire”.
Spinvox is UK company, founded in 2005, that primarily converts your voicemail to text message (or email) but has gradually wandered into other areas of voice to text conversion include twitter posting, blogging and has recently released their own API.
The company, conceived by a former Psion veteran – Daniel Doulton – has always said that voice messages are primarily converted to text using a service called D2, or the brain, with occasional messages being sent to human transcribers when the message is unable to be automatically converted.
The BBC’s investigation has found that a much larger majority of the voice messages are in fact sent to call centers in places like South Africa, Philippines and Egypt where messages are often converted in real time by human beings.
One particular ex-Spinvox employee said:
“The machine doesn’t understand anything, you have to start typing when you hear the message.”
The company refuses to reveal the average number of messages that are converted by humans, claiming that it is highly classified information.
BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones says in a blog post:
“I have some confidence in those claims because I’ve seen compelling evidence that my own voicemails have been transcribed by humans, not by machines.”
In December last year, photos from a Spinvox call centre were leaked and posted to a miscellaneous Voicemail Transcription website. One of the images, sees some level of automatic conversion with agents seemingly required to improve on what has already been converted. You’ll notice an agent speed monitoring widget at the bottom left of the screen too.
As a user of the service, I have been relatively happy with the service provided but recently I must admit to noticing a sharp decline in the quality of the conversion. As the BBC report states, this would lead you to believe that the service was converted automatically rather than by human beings, but then again – who’s to say what standard the English of the humans converting the message is.
From an investor perspective, what or who is converting the message is pretty significant as it has an enormous impact on the company’s bottom line. The company simply will not survive if v to rely on individuals to convert these messages rather than software.
The company makes clear that none of their staff are ever made aware of names or telephone numbers to ensure that they work within the boundaries of data protection laws. So, from a user perspective, unless you do quite often receive confidential information within your voicemails, there shouldn’t be too much to be concerned with.
One of the co-founders of the service, Christina Domecq, recently appeared on a BBC radio 4 program discussing the business, I highly recommend you listen to the interview. You can also listen to the full report of this investigation on the BBC website.
Spinvox has issued a response on their corporate blog.