At the start of this year we saw the titles of how users of popular voice assistants like Alexa and Siri and continue to face problems when their private data are compromised, or even sent to random people. In May it was reported that Alexa of Amazon recorded a private conversation and sent it to a casual contact. Amazon insists that its Echo devices do not always record, but confirm that the audio has been sent.
History could be a harbinger of things that will come when the voice becomes more and more omnipresent. After all, Amazon has announced the launch of Alexa for Hospitality, its Alexa system for hotels, in June. News like this simply reinforces the idea that voice control is filtering into our daily lives.
The French startup Snips thinks it could have an answer to the problem of data security and privacy. He built his software to work 100% on the device, regardless of the cloud. As a result, user data is processed on the device itself, acting as a potentially stronger privacy guarantor. Unlike centralized assistants like Alexa and Google, Snips knows nothing about its users.
His approach is convincing investors. To date, Snips has raised funds for 22 million euros from investors such as Korelya Capital, MAIF Avenir, BPI France and Eniac Ventures. Created in 2013 by 3 PhDs and now employs more than 60 people in Paris and New York, Snips offers its voice assistant technology as a white label solution for manufacturers of business devices.
He tested his theories on the voice releasing the result of a survey among consumers. The 410-person survey found that 66% of respondents said they would be worried about using a voice assistant in a hotel room, because of privacy concerns, 90% said they would like to check the ways they which companies use their data, even if it meant sacrificing convenience.
"Consumers are increasingly aware of privacy issues with voice assistants who rely on cloud storage and these concerns will affect their use," says Dr. Rand Hindi, co-founder and CEO of Snips. "However, emerging technologies such as blockchain are helping us create safer and more correct alternatives for voice assistants."
Indeed, blockchain is a very important part of Snip's future. As Hindi announced at TechCrunch in May, the company will publish a new set of consumer devices that are independent of its business. The idea is to create a consumer business that promotes further business development. At the same time, they will issue a cryptographic token through an ICO to encourage developers to improve the Snips platform, as an alternative to the use of consumer data. The theory says that this will put it at odds with the approach used by Google and Amazon, who are constantly criticized for invading our private life simply to improve their platforms.
As a result Hindi believes that voice-activated devices become an increasingly common sight in public spaces, there may be a significant change in public opinion about how their privacy is protected.
In an interview conducted last month with TechCrunch, Hindi told me that the company's plans for its new consumer product are well advanced and will be designed from the very beginning. start to be improved over time using a combination of decentralized machine learning and cryptography.
Using blockchain technology to share data, they will be able to train the network "without anyone sending unencrypted data anywhere," he told me.
And "training the network" is where it becomes interesting. With the issuance of a cryptographic token to be used by developers, Hindi says it will encourage developers to work on their platform and to process data in a decentralized way. They are starting from a good place. It claims to have already 14,000 developers on the platform that will be further incentivized by a buzzed economy.
"Otherwise people have no incentive to process those data in a decentralized way, right?" He says.
"We got into blockchain because we are trying to find a way to get people to participate in decentralized machine learning." We wanted to enter the consumer [devices] for a couple of years, but we did not really understood the ultimate goal because we had always had this missing element that was: how we continue to improve it over time. "" This is the main topic for Google and Amazon to pretend you have to send your data to them, to improve the service.If we can solve this problem [by using blockchain] we can offer a real alternative to Alexa that guarantees Privacy by Design, "he says.
"We now have over 14,000 developers building for us and this is a completely organic growth, zero marketing, purely word of mouth, which is really nice because it shows that there is a huge demand for decentralized voice assistance, so effective. "
It could be a high-risk strategy. Launching a voice-activated device is one thing. To stratify it with applications produced by developers apparently incentivized by tokens, especially when cryptographic prices have crashed, it's all different.
Surely it looks like a honeymoon idea, however, we will only really know if Snips can live up to such high ideals after launch.