SoapBox Labs has just submitted a paper to the OHCHR in collaboration with media anthropologist Dr. Veronica Barassi. The paper discusses children’s rights in the digital age, a topic very close to both of our hearts. Dr. Barassi has dedicated much of her academic career to the study of digital citizenship and she is now writing a book for MIT Press entitled Child | Data | Citizen. Similarly, SoapBox Labs has dedicated the last 6 years to developing speech recognition technology for young kids, and while we’re a hugely ambitious, for profit business, we’re also deeply committed to making a positive impact on the lives of young kids through literacy and language learning using our proprietary, Privacy-by-Design driven technology.
People think voice, like breath, is ephemeral; that once spoken, words will disappear forever. In reality, voice prints, like fingerprints, are a uniquely identifiable piece of data that’s reusable and valuable. The value of this data goes far beyond the voice recording itself of course. It can be linked to other personal data and be used to infer things like preferences, accent, and emotion not to mention biometrics. All of us, both adults and children, share valuable voice data with digital services on a regular basis and how that data is being stored, analyzed, used or misused is a potential cause for concern. Concern that becomes alarm bells when the data belongs to young children.
As a leader in the development of children’s speech recognition technology we see first hand the promise of this technology to fundamentally advance literacy and language learning for children everywhere. We also recognize that digital technologies not specifically designed for young children threaten their privacy now and for the span of their lifetimes. SoapBox Labs may be the first speech technology company with Privacy by Design in our DNA but we’re now asking our colleagues across the voice industry to adopt it also.
In recent weeks, companies like Google and Amazon have been responding to the privacy hue and cry by introducing new features. Just last week, Amazon announced that Alexa users will now be able to delete their voice recordings using a simple voice command. Easy to use features like this are both necessary and welcome but our principal call to action to the OHCHR remains as clear, and as urgent, as ever: children’s voice data must be treated differently to adults’ and transparent, child specific privacy regulations are the best way to ensure children are fully protected when they go online. Read our full submission to the OHCHR here.