There are humans in the Spinvox machine, but they’re well behaved
Beleagured voice-transcription company Spinvox has responded to criticisms, claiming its technology works as claimed, and the company does not break customers’ privacy.
Spinvox said its speech system outperforms rivals on “accuracy, speed, scale, reliability and language range” and denied that the majority of messages are transcribed by people in call centres in South Africa and the Philippines. It has always been upfront that humans are involved, but the statement revealed that they are bound into the Spinvox system more tightly than its rivals.
All speech recognition systems use humans for training, to correct and inspect the eventual output, but Spinvox claims to go one further with “live-learning”. Its system, known as VMCS, D2 or “the Brain” actually calls for help, said a Spinvox statement: “One of the key technology breakthroughs applied within VMCS enables it to ‘know what it doesn’t know’. VMCS can then refer a message to a human for assistance as required.”
“Other speech systems do [checking] in off-line mode using humans to inspect inputs and outputs, SpinVox does not,” said the statement. The company did not respond directly to the BBC‘s assertion that one message was transcribed five very different ways – something which would suggest the process has a very extensive human input.
When content is passed to people, privacy is ensured through “anonymisation, encryption and randomisation”, said the statement , adding that no-one has yet complained of a Spinvox security breach, and pointing to its ISO 27001 certification for security management, which is audited ever six months, and its ISO 9001:2008 for overall quality management.
Although the company’s entry in the Data Protection Register does say there are no data transfers outside the European Economic Area, the use of call-centres is apparently allowed under the small print.
“All information is held within secure hosting facilities, which are located in the UK,” the company says, then adds that some is sent elsewhere for “quality control” by agreement with network carriers: “SpinVox is permitted by way of the Act to process data outside of the EEA in compliance with certain requirements as set out in the Act,” said the statement.
The BBC says that the Data Protection Registrar will be writing to Spinvox about the apparent contradiction
“SpinVox ensures by way of its contractual arrangements and by way of its continued ISO 27001 compliance and rigorous internal controls that these requirements are met.” The partners also have to have ISO 27001.
If this wasn’t true, the statement said, carriers would not have signed contracts with Spinvox.
Spinvox denied reports that call centres are blogging private information on Facebook. These reports were posted 18 months ago by an operator at Raya, an Egyptian call centre which unsuccessfully tried out for Spinvox and was never given live data, according to the statement.
The Facebook post “clearly demonstrates that they were using training data,” said Spinvox. The centre was given a model system to evaluate the quality of its staff, who were asked to “convert full messages in order to establish their speed and accuracy”. Raya – and other call centres such as Kencall in Kenya – failed the test.
“The web page has been up for in the region of 18 months and we have not chosen to pursue its removal as it does not breach any of our security conditions,” said the statement.
Although Spinvox denies it is in any financial difficulty, the BBC is still pursuing this one: “The most recent accounts for Spinvox show that in 2007 it made a loss of £36m on revenue of £2m,” said correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones in a story. “The average pay in a workforce of 219 was £96,369, and the highest paid director earned £546,000.”