Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Vodacom South Africa Launches Voice Biometrics

Vodacom South Africa has launched a voice biometrics security measure, which allows a person’s unique “voiceprint” to be used as a key to provide access to a mobile device. Vodacom customers can register for it via their My Vodacom app or through the customer-care call center. Once a customer has successfully registered and recorded the voiceprint, he or she will need to repeat a pass-phrase for the system to verify it against the recorded voiceprint. Research has shown that 80 percent of consumers view voice biometrics positively.

Security is a major concern that companies are using more frequently as a means of differentiating themselves from the competition. Apple uses fingerprints, SK Telecom has launched Security Box and now Vodacom South Africa is using voice biometrics. The idea of having a secure feature that prevents others from accessing a device—or at least certain features of it—is comforting to consumers. However, there are also concerns that need to be addressed.
The first is that of reliability. It remains to be seen whether the technology Vodacom uses is going to be reliable enough to not only prevent others from accessing the device but also to ensure that those who should have access will always be able to get it. When the iPhone 5S launched with a fingerprint sensor, there were reports of phones not recognizing when a finger was present or not approving fingerprints it should have. We could imagine a voice sensor failing to recognize a voice if the speaker sounds different from usual, due to illness, for example. The other concern is privacy. According to an estimate by the Associated Press, there are around 65 million “voiceprints” stored in corporate and government databases around the world. Members of the public are concerned that having their voices in a database could compromise their privacy, which could have effects not only for daily life but also with regard to services that require anonymity, such as counseling services and crime-tip hotlines. Overall, it seems that Vodacom is releasing this feature as a differentiation tactic. While it may accomplish that goal, it is unclear whether it will have the security impact that is being advertised.

The above item appeared in a recent issue of The Tarifica Alert, a weekly resource that analyzes noteworthy developments in the telecoms industry from around the world. To access all of the latest articles and issues:

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