Watch Your Tone: Voice Software Knows When You're Being Scammed
Wouldn't it be great if a little voice piped into your ear when you were in danger, even if you didn't know it? Maybe it could talk you out of climbing that wobbly tree, or steer you away from that fifth slice of pizza.
In a similar vein, a Japanese telecommunications company has developed software that analyzes the pitch of your voice and alerts you if it determines someone is trying to scam you over the phone. Interestingly, it doesn't analyze the possible perpetrator's voice. Rather, it looks for subtle signs in the intended victim's speech that the victim himself may not be aware of.
It won't keep you fit, or get rid of the bruise from falling out of that tree, but the software, from Fujitsu, in a partnership with Japan's Nagoya University, could keep your identity and finances intact.
The software is based on principles covered in a 2009 study by the Japan Science and Technology Agency that found that a person's speech patterns and intonation flattens and becomes less distinct when psychologically stressful information is conveyed to that person over the phone.
"There are limits to human powers of perception and judgment," Fujitsu explained in its March 19 press release. "When overwhelmed with information that may be distressing, some individuals, without knowing it, may have a diminished capacity to objectively evaluate information provided by another party — a situation known as 'overtrust.'"
With more than 90 percent accuracy, Fujitsu said its new technology detects the pitch and voice level changes that lead to "overtrust," and put victims at risk of phone phishing scams.
There is a second component to Fujitsu's software that can help ferret out potential phone fraudsters. Using a checklist provided by the National Police Academy of keywords often used in phone scams, the software registers the number of times the perpetrator uses these words, which include "compensation," "indebtedness," and alerts the victims when it's determined they are at risk.
It's not eavesdropping; Fujitsu says the keyword-detecting technology ignores everything except instances when the words from the predetermined list are spoken.
Fujitsu and Nagoya University are proceeding with the verification-testing phase of thesoftware to evaluate its utility and effectiveness in real world situations.
There could be some downsides, or at least complications, to the software. Graham Cluley, from the security firm Sophos, expressed his concerns that the technology might falter when dealing with people who purposely change their intonation habits on the phone, or those who are distressed for other reasons.
"Would a false alarm result form a divorced couple discussing alimony payments, for example?" Cluley asked.