Larson Technical Services: Voice Technology Consulting

Speech Technology Legal Issues

Outbound calls: Under what circumstances may outbound calls be placed.  What are the identification requirements of the source of the call?  What obligations must the caller support to enable the person called to “op-out” of future calls?
Personalized voices: Under what circumstances may a person’s voice be used during an automated call?

Recording: Under what circumstances may a call be recorded, and how may the recording be used?  How should people be told that the call is being recorded?

Harassment: What constitutes harassment and obscene calls, and how should they be controlled?

Personal data (ID, pass codes voice biometrics, and other personal data): How should personal data be used?  How should personal data be protected?  How may users change personal data?

You just sit down for dinner and the phone rings. You pick up the receiver and hear:

“This is an automated phone call from the Nonprofit Charity for the Preservation of Purple Squid….”

Having no interest in protecting purple squid, you hang up. A few minutes later the phone rings again. It is the recorded voice of your committee to reelect your local politician:

“I need your support in the next election….”

You hang up.

The phone rings again. This time the call is a survey about the future of purple squid. Having not changed your opinion about purple squid, you hang up.

All of these calls are permitted by the current federal no-call legislation, but many people find these calls annoying. Irritating phone calls are just one of several issues facing the speech technology industry. In fact, several issues affect and concern the speech technology industry. Many of these concerns are listed in the sidebar.

In the past, many industries failed to set their own guidelines and regulations so government agencies stepped in and enforced regulations, sometimes with overly restrictive and often with surprising consequences. The housing industry faces a maze of complex housing codes. The heathcare industry is restricted by the HIPAA issues including rules, standards and implementation guides. Some government regulations, such as banning the use of handheld phones while driving, are affecting speech technology providers.

Would it be a good idea for the speech technology industry to jointly establish rules and guidelines? After all, who knows the speech industry better than we do ourselves? If we establish our own guidelines, we may postpone government regulation or make government-enforced restrictions unnecessary. If the government ever feels that the speech technology industry needs to have rules and regulations, let’s have some well-thought rules and guidelines that the government can use.

So who in the speech technology industry is setting general guidelines and protocols for managing these issues? Or will we leave some government body to dictate the rules? The big question:

“What do you believe should be done to establish guidelines for the use of speech technologies in the marketplace?”

Individual speech technology companies probably don’t have enough clout to have their home-grown guidelines adopted widely. Paul English’s GetHuman Standard ( identifies 10 guidelines for IVR systems. However, the speech industry has not fully embraced these guide lines. None of the three major speech technology organizations (VoiceXML Forum, W3C Voice Browser Working Group, Advanced Voice Input Output Society) are setting guidelines for how speech technologies should be used. This lack of action puts the speech industry at the mercy of government bureaucrats and related political processes, which often produce guidelines that don’t solve the problems and sometimes have unexpected side effects.

So, who will start the process of defining guidelines to promote the appropriate use of speech technology in the marketplace that uses a reasoned methodology with general consensus?

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