Spinvox is the poster child of the British technology scene, yet today it faces claims made in a BBC investigation that its unique voice recognition technology that converts Spinvox customers’ voice messages into text messages does not in fact do all the converting.
The BBC claims that, in fact, many messages are actually converted into text by call centre workers in South Africa and the Philippines. Spinvox said in a statement that "Speech algorithms do not learn without human intervention and all speech systems require humans for learning – Spinvox does this in real-time." Spinvox would not say how many messages are read by humans, rather than machines.
Spinvox has positioned itself as a groundbreaking business. "Saying goodbye to voicemail" has been a Spinvox claim. The Spinvox investigation will be a huge embarrassment on a number of levels:
First, such human intervention will clearly raise privacy and data protection questions. The BBC’s Spinvox investigation says that: "A Facebook group created by staff at an Egyptian call centre, which used to work for Spinvox, includes a picture of one transcribed message containing what appears to be sensitive commercial information." Investors are unlikely to be happy, given that they’ve put something like £120m into a "technology" firm. The UK technology scene, which has lauded Spinvox as a truly pioneering and innovative business. At a time when we desperately need success stories to take the UK forward as a technology-based economy, Spinvox’s travails do not look good. And, of course, this looks like an open goal for Spinvox rivals. If they suddenly clock that the barriers to entry in this potentially lucrative marketplace are, in fact, not as high as they thought, Spinvox could face a plethora of hungry, cheaper competitors. The BBC also reports that Spinvox is facing financial pressures of its own, asking staff recently to take part of their pay in share options. That looks a less appealing proposition as of today.