Not so long ago, the Internet seemed like a vast, endless landscape, where one could rejoice in connecting with like-minded folk. Security and privacy were concerns, of course, but they were concerns you could handle.
That Internet seemed like a place of possibility. But it seems further and further away from reality today.
Today’s Internet is a scary place. Questionable companies harvest, obscure, and sell the data of individuals on one end, and on the other, bad actors lie in wait for casual browsers to slip up. Meanwhile, organizations in the middle look for more access, in the name of… security?
Privacy is a buzzword, and governments are having trouble keeping up with the lack of transparency and rapidly evolving technology — aside from Andrew Yang, who has some pretty interesting ideas on the subject.
There is a middle ground, and we at NameShouts hope to stand upon it. There are ways to offer a free, personalized product that don’t involve selling your user’s data to sketchy companies. There is a path to building out features that don’t put your customers at risk.
Doing these things requires commitment to the ethos of the old Internet, a commitment to authentic human connection, to community over currency. As we’re thinking about this, we’d like to reflect on an idea we’ve seen recently that doesn’t sit quite well with us.
Your name is a core facet of your identity. And on the Internet, your identity is to be protected. So we’d like to take a second to talk about recording the pronunciation of your name, the privacy concerns around it, and why we’re still looking to build this out as a feature.
The Privacy Problem
Our most sensitive data, such as bank accounts, are protected by multiple identity checks.
As these identity checks are digitized for our convenience and safety, we are creating new risk for potential fraud. For example, phone number-based 2FA solutions can be intercepted by intrepid bad actors, who can then gain access to your accounts. And the age-old password-based solution has long been proven to be a risky proposition.
More secure data is protected by more involved identity checks, such as biometrics. These allow the institution you’re dealing with to verify beyond shadow of doubt that you are, in fact, the account owner. Biometrics are becoming increasingly prevalent as data breaches lead to stolen passwords.
Biometrics are to be protected, especially in the digital world. As the requirements to be physically present for identity checks are eroded, we need to make sure our integral personal information is excessively secure.
Biometrics include fingerprints, facial regonition, and voiceprints. And as more and more service providers are offering voiceprints as a biometric possibility, a uniquely difficult situation arises for the end user.
Public recordings are risky for privacy.
Your unique voice has become an identifier for your unique identity.
That means, unless you are making a living as a public persona, you should do what you can to keep your voiceprint private.
Depending on the institutions you deal with, your voiceprint might be a key identifier for security purposes.
Just as screen names, VPNs, and proper privacy settings on social media are critical to safety on the internet, keeping your voiceprint secure should be a major concern. Voice cloning and deepfaking are on the rise, and this can only be made easier by having your voiceprint openly available on the Internet.
Until these solutions are proven to be secure, we would recommend, as does the article above, to refrain from using voiceprints as a biometric login solution for your sensitive accounts. Using an authenticator such as some of those recommended here is a great alternative.
So, what’s the risk?
To be clear, we are always a fan of ideas that put name pronunciation front and center as a real issue to be addressed.
Mispronouncing someone’s name can make them feel othered, upset, or even disrespected. People’s names are a core facet of their identity, and we should take more time to give them the respect they deserve.
While we offer the most comprehensive name pronunciation service on the Internet, we’re happy to see other services offer similar solutions to their users.
There is a path to building out features that don’t put your customers at risk.
One such service is LinkedIn, which recently launched a name pronunciation feature, where you can record the pronunciation of your own name as you would pronounce it for other users to listen to.
In theory, this is an awesome idea. People are often reaching out cold on LinkedIn, and giving people the opportunity to pronounce names right from the start of an interaction is always something we’d support.
Unfortunately, however, the Internet is not the safest place in the world. You can make this pronunciation available to people outside of your network, which means your unique voiceprint pronouncing your name is out there for the world to see.
A similar service, NameDrop, allows you to include a voice recording of your name pronunciation in your email.
Both LinkedIn and NameDrop are unclear on the security of these solutions. We recommend only sharing your name recordings with connections and trusted contacts, or, even better, using a NameShouts link to one of our recordings, should your name be available on our service.
Privacy is truly important to us.
After reading through all of this, you’re probably feeling a bit worried about recording your own name and putting it on the Internet. And, full disclosure, NameShouts is working on a feature that lets you do just that.
When we started NameShouts, we believed that an internally sourced database, with rigorous checking and verification standards, would be the best path to a comprehensive name pronunciation service.
But people are unique, as are names, which means that sometimes we just aren’t going to have someone’s own way of pronouncing their name available on NameShouts.
To solve this, we’re building out a feature that will let users record their own name. This will look quite different from what other services offer, though.
NameShouts name recordings will be hosted privately on our database. The only people with access to these recordings will be:
- You, the recorder, and anyone you wish to share the recording with (IE, your team, people you email, etc.), via a NameShouts link.
- Should you opt in, NameShouts’ data collection team, who will use your recording to create a NameShouts-approved version for our public database.
When we view your recording, it will be with the sole purpose of guiding our team to offer your unique pronunciation on our public-facing database. The recording will not feature your voice, it will simply offer the unique phonetic and audio pronunciation of your name, the way you pronounce it.
To reiterate, there will be no identifying traits in our generated recording. Your voiceprint will be completely secure, and will only be used to guide our team in creating a new pronunciation for your name.
Crowd-sourcing our database has never been the plan at NameShouts. We’ve invested heavily in linguistic expertise and AI-generated solutions to ensure the most accurate pronunciations possible.
We truly believe in privacy and security, and are working everyday to ensure our users retain their basic Internet rights when using our service.
To that end, we will never make your voiceprint publicly available. To do so would be an extreme violation of your privacy and safety on the Internet.
And so we suggest you do the same. Though the Internet might look quite different from back in the day, one thing is still the same: privacy reigns supreme. Let’s do our best to keep things that way.