Friday, July 24, 2009

On the BBC news story bashing SpinVox

I read with interest this morning a BBC story about SpinVox which suggests that the majority of messages on it's platform have been heard and transcribed by call centre staff in South Africa and the Philippines rather than being transcribed into text using speech recognition technology.

The article goes on to say that messages appear to have been read by workers outside of the European Union raises questions about the firm's data protection policy. SpinVox's entry on the UK Data Protection Register says it does not transfer anything outside the European Economic Area.

Anyone with a working knowledge of the voice mail to text transcription industry (which includes other vendors like Jott Networks and Google Voice) understands that no speech recognition process available today can achieve perfectly accurate automated transcriptions for large numbers of voice mail messages from thousands of different callers and the wide variety of audio quality typical of phone calls, especially those like poor cellular connections.

Today, almost everyone working in this space uses a combination of speech recognition technologies and human (read: caller center agent) based quality assurance (q/a) to obtain transcriptions of a usable quality. The human touch adds two elements: first, it can edit out errors from the automated transcription process and secondly, the markup data from the human q/a agents can be used to further refine the recognition process.

In the rare cases where no human q/a is used before delivering the transcription to the end users, the quality of the transcription almost always suffers. By example, has anyone seen "Great" transcription yet from Google Voice?

Unfortunetly, the economic model playing out in this industry forces this q/a work to off-shore or third world call centers.

The BBC story is important in it's discussion of the data security issues. So far, none of these services has provided sufficent details about the processes they use to assure data security and it does appear on the surface that SpinVox may be violating the EU Data Protection Policy that it's committed to. To quote Ross Perot: "The nut's in the detail". We've not yet seen enough detail to know much about the "nut".

I've used Jott, Google Voice and SpinVox myself (in fact I currently use SpinVox on my cellular voice mail) and I've found all to be useful but none to be superbly accurate in their transcriptions. However the services with human based q/a have faired much better.

What's your experience been? Are you concerned about the security of your message content when using these services for voicemail transcription? I'd be interested in hearing your comments!

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