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Shhhh, they're listening – inside the coming voice-profiling revolution

Companies could soon tailor what they try to sell you based on the mood conveyed by the sound of your voice. CSA-Printstock via Getty Images

Shhhh, they're listening – inside the coming voice-profiling revolution

Companies could soon tailor what they try to sell you based on the mood conveyed by the sound of your voice. CSA-Printstock via Getty Images

Shhhh, they're listening – inside the coming voice-profiling revolution

Companies could soon tailor what they try to sell you based on the mood conveyed by the sound of your voice. CSA-Printstock via Getty Images

Shhhh, they're listening – inside the coming voice-profiling revolution

Companies could soon tailor what they try to sell you based on the mood conveyed by the sound of your voice. CSA-Printstock via Getty Images

If you hear “This call is being recorded for training and quality control,” it isn’t just the customer service representative they’re monitoring. It can be you, too.

Joseph Turow, University of Pennsylvania

You decide to call a store that sells some hiking boots you’re thinking of buying. As you dial in, the computer of an artificial intelligence company hired by the store is activated. It retrieves its analysis of the speaking style you used when you phoned other companies the software firm services. The computer has concluded you are “friendly and talkative.” Using predictive routing, it connects you to a customer service agent who company research has identified as being especially good at getting friendly and talkative customers to buy more expensive versions of the goods they’re considering.

This hypothetical situation may sound as if it’s from some distant future. But automated voice-guided marketing activities like this are happening all the time.

If you hear “This call is being recorded for training and quality control,” it isn’t just the customer service representative they’re monitoring.

It can be you, too.

When conducting research for my forthcoming book, “The Voice Catchers: How Marketers Listen In to Exploit Your Feelings, Your Privacy, and Your Wallet,” I went through over 1,000 trade magazine and news articles on the companies connected to various forms of voice profiling. I examined hundreds of pages of U.S. and EU laws applying to biometric surveillance. I analyzed dozens of patents. And because so much about this industry is evolving, I spoke to 43 people who are working to shape it.

It soon became clear to me that we’re in the early stages of a voice-profiling revolution that companies see as integral to the future of marketing.

Thanks to the public’s embrace of smart speakers, intelligent car displays and voice-responsive phones – along with the rise of voice intelligence in call centers – marketers say they are on the verge of being able to use AI-assisted vocal analysis technology to achieve unprecedented insights into shoppers’ identities and inclinations. In doing so, they believe they’ll be able to circumvent the errors and fraud associated with traditional targeted advertising.

Not only can people be profiled by their speech patterns, but they can also be assessed by the sound of their voices – which, according to some researchers, is unique and can reveal their feelings, personalities and even their physical characteristics.

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