Visa eyes voice recognition for online purchases

Visa International is testing voiceprint authentication technology which could eventually be used by the company's member banks...

Visa International is testing voiceprint authentication technology which could eventually be used by the company's member banks to let credit card holders speak into their PCs to verify online purchases.

About 200 Visa employees last month began beta-testing software developed by Vocent Solutions for use in resetting their network passwords.

Visa officials said they expect Vocent's Voice Secure Password Reset software to produce a speedy return on investment by reducing help desk calls. Visa plans to go live with the application early next year, widening its roll-out to 5,000 workers worldwide.

But the company is also considering the idea of deploying companion Vocent software as a customer-facing application sometime next year. The software would create a digital representation of a consumer's voice and then match it against comments he was prompted to make when using a Visa card to process an online shopping order.

"It's not invasive and it's very accurate," said Georgann Scally, vice-president of alliance management at Visa.

However, even if Visa is confident that the voice-recognition service will work for consumers, Scally said it would be up to the banks that issue credit cards to decide whether to install the required servers and software.

Visa is using two servers running Windows 2000 to perform the automated password resets as part of its internal testing. The first server runs Vocent's applications along with software that interfaces to Visa's private branch exchange telephone system.

The second server runs Courion's PasswordCourier software, which is integrated with Vocent-derived user and voiceprint data that is stored on the same box in a Microsoft SQL Server database. Vocent set up the links by using application programming interfaces developed by Courion.

Fewer Help Desk Calls
Visa averages 1,400 password resets per month, each one costing about $20 in help desk time, said Sam Rollins, vice-president for information security at Visa.

When the Vocent/Courion system is fully deployed, Visa expects to cut up to three quarters of those password reset calls. "It's more than just a savings in dollars," Rollins said. "We're also talking about the time involved. It resolves [the] issue of getting hold of someone to reset the password."

Rollins would not disclose the budget for the project, but he said the hardware costs and internal resource time added up to about $30,000 (£19,182). The test system took 60 to 90 days to roll out, he said.

Gartner analyst Brad Adrian said voice-recognition technologies suffered during the 1990s from too much hype relative to their capabilities. But now the applications are accurate 90% to 95% of the time and "can pay for themselves very quickly", he said.

Rollins said Visa previously tried voice-recognition technology from another vendor but it "just didn't work". But he said Visa officials were happy with Vocent's software.

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