SpinVox responds to BBC allegations

By Andrew Laughlin, Technology Reporter

SpinVox has blamed disgruntled former employees for recent privacy and security allegations against its text conversion service for mobile messages.

This follows a BBC investigation which claimed that the vast majority of private messages submitted to SpinVox are not being interpreted by machines, but are instead being transcribed by call centre teams in the Philippines and South Africa.

If this were true, then it would create significant privacy and security fears in regards to the company's staff reading the personal messages of users.
In response, the firm's chief executive Christina Domecq has said that the "vast majority" of messages are transcribed by machines, but human intervention is required when discrepancies occur.

"We seem to be under sustained attack by some former employees," she told The Guardian. "The ratio of humans to messages and humans to number of users is very, very low. The majority of calls are fully automated."

Domecq explained that the company uses human employees purely to maintain service quality, as each text received is given a confidence score, with low scores resulting in a referral to the call centre.
From here, SpinVox staff analyse the call and the resulting text to ensure that any new words are included in the company's database for future reference.

Technology used by the firm has improved significantly since it was first introduced in 2004, said Domecq, meaning that the company now relies on fewer call centre staff.
Therefore, she believes that former employees who were unhappy at being required to leave the company have since become the source of the BBC's allegations.

"Over the last four years we have worked with over 50 call centres, some of the call centres have been really small and some really big but some of the call centres mentioned [by the BBC] are people we engaged three years ago," she explained.

"All my technologists have said to me 'this has nothing to do with where we are today, that was where we were three years ago'. We now have five [call centres] so I guess in some ways you could say we have moved on and some people are not happy with the fact that we have moved on and we are getting flak for it."

Another concern raised by the BBC was in regards to privacy, including how much the SpinVox system complies with the Data Protection Act, particularly as the information is passing outside the European Economic Area.

Any organisation processing personal data must contact the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), and Domecq has stressed that SpinVox has already gone though this notification process.
"We have invested too much into this to do it haphazardly," she added.
An ICO spokesman indicated that current UK legislation does not prevent SpinVox from using humans rather than machines to translate messages, but consumers must always be aware of who could be listening to their personal communications.

"It may be helpful if the company is clearer about the likelihood that people will be used to translate messages," the spokesman explained.
"This is particularly important if customers are using the service for transmitting sensitive or secure information."