The voice conveys a significant amount of information, some of it unique to a person and thus suitable as a biometric, and some not. There’s what a person is saying, which can be decoded and used by automated speech recognition technologies like in the Amazon Echo or the Ok Google function of Android phones. There’s how a person speaks – language, tone, accent, speaking style. Software that can decode and use this information is still being developed, though a new German government initiative is attempting to use it with incoming refugee populations.

 

Voice biometric technology is no concerned with either of these, however. It registers basic information related to a person physical vocal tract – the shape of the larynx, mouth, and nose. This information is conveyed by the waveforms of a person’s voice. It is difficult, though not impossible, to disguise and remains constant regardless of language or content. Voice biometrics are used primarily for authentication. They are roughly as accurate as fingerprint technology, and even more so if the user is saying a preassigned phrase.


Uses

Voice biometrics are used in a number of different ways, for convenient authentication, at call centers, for help desk automation, as part of security system, and as a police investigative tool. At Keyo we use it for customer support. We verify the identity of callers during support requests to further ensure we are only divulging any sensitive information to those who should have it. For that service we use Fujitsu’s Biometrics-as-a-Service (BIOaaS).


Upsides

Identity can be conveniently verified over the phone. Emergency services such as 911 can identify voices during emergency situations. The addition of voice print technology can improve security systems.


Downsides

Voice biometrics are incredibly easy to give without consent. Anyone who has ever given a recorded speak or posted a public video could theoretically be identified without her knowledge using her voice biometric. Agnitio’s VoiceID only needs 7 seconds of speech for identification. As with fingerprint, iris scan, and especially facial recognition technology, there is a need for greater restrictions and guidelines to protect privacy and guarantee consensual identification.

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