Could New Babel Fish Technology Take Away The Final Barrier to Privacy?

by Paul Davies, May 13, 2015

News this week of Skype’s translator program becoming accessible to the general public has sparked the imagination of many people around the world. Is this the start of the Babel Fish of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame becoming a reality? Does this break down in international speech barriers mean we can now have a world of one voice?

But such an innovation by Skype does open up the potential to a truly global marketplace, yet when it comes at the same time that global security agencies are being questioned over their use of speech recognition software, the potential for yet further invasion of privacy is also very real.

The Skype Translator

The Skype translator was actually launched back in 2014, but with a limited number of users invited to participate in the preliminary trials, the hype was limited to say the least. However as of this week, anyone is now able to use the four registered languages for a real time chat across the internet, without the need for an interpreter.

Talk to your aunt in Madrid and you will finally be able to understand her without the need for a dictionary. Or order your wine from Italy directly from the merchants with no language problems at all.

Obviously, as this article goes to press, this translator is still in its infancy. And only through time and intense usage are the skills of such a program going to reach a high enough standard to be considered a real life tool. But in the meantime it does show the world just how precise speech recognition software is becoming. And if you can see your conversation with your Nan, your Mum or your lover printed up on the screen next to you, even when you are speaking different languages, the big question has to be who else can see it?

The Threat of Speech Recognition Software

What is unique about speech recognition software when you compare it with other forms of data sharing across the net, is how naïve users can be.

Speech recognition software has actually been in existence for a decades. Yet most people don’t even realise they are using it. If you think about it, when was the last time you picked up the phone to talk to your bank and was asked by a computer to explain the problem? You only have to try and book cinema tickets to hear a computer generated voice asking you to speak clearly into the phone to identify the film you want to see.

The computer recognises the speech patterns in your voice, converts them into data and uses them to take action. So why should government agencies and potential hackers be any different? In fact, the data you provide over speech recognition software could be at more risk than even your shared written information. While the likes of the NSA are meant to be strictly regulated over how and when they gain access to online information, the existence of this type of guideline for speech recognition is seriously lacking.

When Julian Assange raised the alarm bells back in 1999, when the power of speech recognition software first became apparent, nobody really listened. Even when the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communication Technologies undertook a full report on the surveillance capabilities of one of the biggest security agencies in the world, their use of speech recognition software was not included. And it goes further, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board does not even mention the use of this type of technology in any of their reports. Or the use of the information that is gleaned from them?

In fact, even though we use the likes of Siri on our iPhones and Smart TV’s to control our entertainment by voice. Is anyone really looking at who is gleaning the information that is coming out of our mouths? And who knows what they are using it for?

Is Your TV Watching You?

There have been reports over recent months of Samsung TV’s in particular being equipped with the ability to monitor anything you say in your home, even when your TV is on standby. Just by having an internet connection in your home and a voice controlled entertainment system, the potential to eavesdrop is incredible. Yet, while there was uproar in the market for a few days. The hysteria has quickly died down, with many users not realising just how serious this is.

In reality, humans have been proven to be less discreet with their spoken word than they ever are with the information that they write down. When speaking there is less time to consider the level of information you are sharing. And there is certainly now proof-reading before you open your mouth. Yet with such highly refined speech recognition software in existence, voice and the written word should be treated exactly the same.

Watch What You Say

Here at Easyhide-VPN we have been extolling the need for users to take care with their verbal online information for years. It is one of the main reasons why our VPN services will support the likes of Skype, Viber and WeChat.

While many service providers will hide IP addresses for the written word, if your voice over IP protocols are also not protected, then you could be giving out far more information that you ever thought possible, to all the wrong people. The key is to keep all your online activity protected. Use a VPN service whenever you are going online, even if it just to Skype your friends.

Make sure any information that comes out of your mouth, when you are in the presence of any type of voice recognition software, is something that you would be happy to send out on an email. And if you are unsure of whether you are being overheard, assume that you are – it’s far safer.

Ultimately, the world is starting to realise that Big Brother, and all his not so cute nephews and nieces are watching us. What we also have to realise is that they are listening to us too.