Spinvox in a spin over privacy worries

UK-based speech to text specialist Spinvox has been caught up in controversy this week over its data protection standards, as well as questions about the company’s finances.

It has long been known that Spinvox uses people to transcribe messages under some circumstances; when the translating software fails to understand the message, for example. But recent claims by employees past and present go so far as to say that in fact the majority of messages are transcribed by call centre staff in Africa and Asia.

This has raised questions over data protection, and it now appears that the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is breathing down Spinvox’s neck over the firm’s claim that it does not transfer any data outside of the European Economic Area.

Despite extensive funding, it is the burden of running these call centres that is understood to be putting a strain on the company’s finances, and it emerged last week that Spinvox staff had been asked to take share options in the firm instead of some or all of their paycheck for July and August. The firm is also known to be looking at other “cost cutting measures,” which many take to mean job cuts.

The BBC on Thursday reported that Spinvox has also been locked out of a London data centre over payment issues, which lends credence to the speculation that the firm is under financial pressure.

Rapid growth has been blamed for the company’s financial problems, and it should be noted that this same rapid growth was once a source of pride for the upstart firm. In June, the company signed a deal with Spanish carrier Telefónica that will see its text voicemail service made available to Telefónica’s entire Latin American customer base. The carrier has almost 125 million customers in the region. spoke to one of Spinvox’s partners, BestBefore Media, which uses the Spinvox API to do audio transcriptions as well as offer a service it describes as the “twitter of the spoken word,” known as AudioBoo.

Mark Rock, CEO of BestBefore said that his firm used Spinvox because they were impressed by the quality, but added that he was surprised to discover that people managed most of the transcription manually. “The line we were spun is that humans were only used where necessary,” he said.

Rock’s greatest concern also centres on privacy issues as his firm offers transcription services used by journalists which may involve sensitive information, leading him to “look into the data protection issues.” However, Rock noted that Spinvox is not mission critical and that there is “always somewhere else to go” if Spinvox were to run into trouble, financial or otherwise.


  1. Avatar Sean O Sullivan 23/07/2009 @ 1:29 pm

    Ask *anyone* in the speech recognition business, anyone, about claims that continuous speech from a random person’s voice (i.e. untrained speech rec engine) can be automatically converted with 97 per cent accuracy, and they’ll tell you pretty quickly what they think about that.

    It is well known in the industry that the SpinVox claims were, at best, very “exaggerated”.

    A pity, as their marketing is to die for, and their core offer of VM-to-Text is a service that lots of people like and are willing to pay for.

    • Avatar Anon 24/07/2009 @ 9:29 pm

      Oh, you don’t work for spinvox do you? No didn’t think so…

  2. Avatar GQ 23/07/2009 @ 10:16 pm

    Suppliers have grown tired of supporting spinvox and hearing the ‘Spin’ in Spinvox. County Court claims have been issued. Lets hope they do the honest thing.

  3. Avatar Derek 26/07/2009 @ 2:49 pm

    BBC report is true. I can attest to that. I’m an agent before and we used to convert full msgs all d time.

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