Paying through the mouth, voice verification

By: CNN
By: CNN

Online shoppers may soon see pin numbers go the way of checkbooks and dinosaurs. One company is introducing new technology that uses voice verification or voice biometrics as a way to verify a buyer's identity. But is this new technology reliable? Phil Black takes a look.

They're often seen in spy movies and increasingly at airports - iris scans, finger print readers. Using physical features to confirm identification is known as biometrics. Voice verification is another biometric method, and Nick Ogden, the chief executive of Voicepay wants to make it part of your online shopping experience.

"In the same way as you've got a fingerprint on your finger, voice biometrics identifies the way that people talk. All of our voices are unique in a number of different ways," Ogden said.

Voicepay aims to use the human voice like a pin number attached to a bank account or credit card. Setup involves a few minutes on the phone. When you make a purchase the same process is followed, and the system compares your voice to the original recording.

"If someone has a cold, they might be a little hungover, their voice is a little husky, you think this technology is still reliable?" asked Black.

"The system is 100 percent reliable because it will defer against a transaction if there is any question that it's not the right person," Ogden said.

"And even the best mimics in the world can't bust this?" Black questioned.

"We don't think so," Ogden replied.

But linguistics expert Dr. Mark Huckvale said voice verification can be less reliable than other biometric methods.

"When you're measuring speech you're measuring an action or a performance of someone, but when you're measuring a fingerprint you're measuring a physical characteristic. And of course performances are naturally much more variable that physical characteristics," Huckvale said.

Dutch Banking Group Abn Amro has used the same technology with some of its customers since July 2006, but shoppers in London are still cautious about the idea.

"I feel that someone could easily take off my voice, so unless it was as accurate as iris recognition I wouldn't be happy about it," one shopper said. "It sounds very good but then pin numbers, they thought was a really good idea didn't they. And that's turning out not to be quite so good."

Initially, voicepay is targeting the online market. But the company said it's already in negotiations with a British retail chain, which means instead of producing your chip and pin at the checkout all you may need is a mobile phone and a clear voice.


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