Our fingerprints, irises, faces and voices are all features that are unique to us. This information, which is referred to as biometric data, could very well become an authentication standard in the future. The consulting firm PW Consultants is banking on this in any event and has partnered with a team of researchers led by Dijana Petrovska-Delacrétaz at Télécom SudParis (a member of Carnot Télécom & Société Numérique) to develop Talk to Pay. This application, the result of four years of collaboration, now makes it possible to secure online payments using voice recognition.
Rarely has the debate about personal data sovereignty been as heated as it was in the year 2015. As members of the European parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee were finalizing the data protection reform, economic stakeholders were also making this issue a priority. It was against this backdrop that PW Consultants, a consulting firm specialized in payments engineering, was completing an initial four-year research partnership with Télécom SudParis. This collaboration was initiated in 2012 to develop a security solution for online payments using biometric data, in order to prevent bank fraud. This collaboration resulted in a service that allows users to confirm transactions using their voice. Its name? Talk to Pay.
“We’ve taken a holistic approach, explains Dijana Petrovska-Delacrétaz, who leads the research team at Télécom SudParis. A physicist by training, she explains, “the goal was not to process voice data solely in terms of its frequency aspect, but to integrate new word recognition methods too.” The scientists also used distinguishing characteristics of each individual’s speech – pronunciation of vowels, intonation and stress are some examples of distinctive verbal properties. Combined with frequency information, these parameters make it possible to set up highly advanced recognition systems.
The researchers also had to account for a number of factors that further complicated their work. “In the concourse of a train station, it’s harder to recognize a voice,” explains Dijana Petrovska-Delacrétaz. Users may also change telephones, and therefore, microphones. What’s more, “the speech sampling frequency is higher for new IP protocols than it is on older lines,” says the researcher, illustrating the need to “adjust algorithms to existing lines and telephones.”
Validating the models
Working with PW Consultants gave the scientists a specific framework for their research, in tune with consumers’ needs, while providing them with an opportunity to validate and promote their work. “That’s an important point for our research,” asserts Dijana Petrovska-Delacrétaz. The Talk to Pay application was tested on a sample of over 500 individuals in partnership with La Banque Postale. “Testing on a statistically significant, representative sample of the population allows us to validate our theoretical models and tests carried out in the laboratory,” explains the researcher.
Officially, the partnership came to a close in 2016. But PW Consultants and Dijana Petrovska-Delacrétaz’s team are already in talks to renew it. “A joint patent has been filed, it’s based on the integration of several factors to resolve impersonation problems,” she says with satisfaction. In the years to come, the researchers may work on combining voice biometrics with cryptography. In other words, how to make sure that biometric data is stored in a secure and revocable way. This is a crucial issue: unlike passwords which can be changed on a daily basis, biometric parameters remain unique to us throughout our lives.
The company and Talk to Pay
PW Consultants is an independent business consulting firm specialized in payments engineering and improving risk management processes. Founded in 1986 by Patrick Wajsbrot, it has specialized in payments engineering and risk management since 2001. Today PW Consultants has a staff of forty-five.
The firm contacted the Télécom SudParis research team in 2012 to develop a security solution for online payments. This led to the development of Talk to Pay. The application involves two steps. First, users record their voice on a dedicated website and link it to their bank details. Then, when making an online purchase, they receive a call on their mobile phone and use their voice to authenticate the purchase. Their bank details are then filled in automatically and users confirm all information using a single-use security code generated at the time of purchase.