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It chased fraudsters. Now, Pindrop wants to simplify streaming.

The security startup has struck a partnership with TiVo to personalize voice search.

It chased fraudsters. Now, Pindrop wants to simplify streaming.

Pindrop is partnering with TiVo to bring its voice authentication technology to smart TVs and streaming devices.

Photo: Scott Eells/Getty Images

Chicken Man was trying to be clever.

Calling up banks to trick unsuspecting customer service agents, the scam artist would always play a recording of chickens in the background to mask his voice. Security experts at Pindrop, a voice authentication startup used by major financial institutions to screen 1.1 billion calls last year, got such a kick out of his efforts that they even named a conference room after him. However, Chicken Man couldn't defeat Pindrop's technology, and ultimately helped the company prepare for a new challenge: a typical family's living room.

On Tuesday, Pindrop announced a partnership with TiVo to bring its voice authentication technology to smart TVs and streaming devices. Instead of weeding out fraudsters, the technology is now being used to personalize voice search results and present the right content recommendations to each member of the family. Soon, the company even plans to infer emotional states from a person's voice, and tweak content recommendations accordingly.

Thanks to the unwitting help of fraudsters like Chicken Man, Pindrop has gotten very good at dealing with background noise. During a demo given to Protocol, an Android TV device featuring Pindrop's tech was able to identify two different speakers even with a blender running on high gear, as well as with one of the participants wearing a muffling N95 mask.

Personalization for smart devices is nothing new. Streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ have for years offered user profiles to personalize content recommendations. Similarly, Google and Amazon are both offering consumers a way to personalize responses from their respective voice assistants.

But while the tech and streaming giants require users to actively set up user profiles and authenticate the voices of each member of their household, Pindrop is taking a more organic approach. "We do something called passive clustering," explained CEO Vijay Balasubramaniyan. Pindrop's algorithms analyze over 250 voice characteristics, including intonation, rhythm and style.

In the living room, the technology is being used to develop unique profiles for everyone in the household; the profiles are then connected to content recommendation engines like the one developed by TiVo. Consumers can decide to name the profiles for each family member, but Pindrop doesn't need to know anything about the real identity of each user.

Once the first streaming products powered by Pindrop launch, the startup wants to fine-tune its technology to detect the emotion and age of consumers to further improve recommendations. TiVo has yet to announce any products that will feature Pindrop's technology, but Balasubramaniyan said that we may get an update on that in the next few months. In addition to its legacy DVR business, TiVo also launched its own Android TV streaming dongle last year, and is licensing its voice technology to other companies.

Pindrop's work for the living room also helped the company improve some of its other security efforts. One example: Live call center conversations are typically a lot longer than the voice commands used to search streaming services, but by optimizing for these short phrases, Pindrop was also able to improve its screening of interactions with the kind of automated call center platforms that ask consumers for one-word choices.

"Solving this problem for TV has helped us in the call center world," Balasubramaniyan said.

Meta, Block, Alphabet: Why some companies outgrow their old names

When tech becomes Big Tech, sometimes the names feel too small.

What do you do when your company becomes many companies? You might have to rebrand.

Photo: Block

What’s in a name? For tech companies, quite a lot.

Most companies in tech are named for their first product, whether it’s a social network, a shopping website, a search engine or a messaging service. But as big tech companies grow, their ambitions tend to sprawl, and their founding names often can’t keep up. So in recent years, tech giants like Meta, Block and Alphabet shifted from the names of their flagship products to something all-encompassing. But companies taking on a sleek new name isn’t just a marketing play. Brands often take new names to create distance between themselves and their flagship product.

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Nat Rubio-Licht
Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

The fintech developers who made mobile banking as routine as texting or online shopping aren't done. The next frontier for innovation is open banking – fintech builders are enabling consumers to be at the center of where and how their data is used to provide the services they want and need.

Most people don't even realize they're using open banking services today. If they connected their investment and banking accounts in a personal financial management solution or app, they're using open banking. Perhaps they've seen ads about how they can improve their credit score by uploading pay stubs or utility records to that same app – this is also powered by open banking.

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Bob Schukai
Bob Schukai is Executive Vice President of Technology Development, New Digital Infrastructure & Fintech at Mastercard, where he leads the technical design, execution and support of innovative open banking and fintech solutions, as well as next generation technologies to support global payment and data capabilities. Prior to Mastercard, Schukai’s work focused on cognitive computing, financial technology, blockchain, user experience and digital identity. He is also a member of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Loom, Zoom, boom: How Rippling raised $250 million with a demo video and a memo

Video app Loom has become the founder’s tool of choice for pitching venture capitalists.

Rippling CEO Parker Conrad recorded a product demo on Loom and sent it to investors as a fundraising shortcut.

Photo: Rippling

Parker Conrad has come to deeply loathe PowerPoint slides. He’s raised money for three different startups, and sending investors slides of a pitch deck feels like sending them only half a presentation, he said.

“It’s like sending someone a song and some of the tracks of music are missing,” Conrad, the co-founder and CEO of HR startup Rippling, told Protocol. “Any slide that you put together is meant to be accompanied by your voice track. And so if you’re sending slides without that, it’s a terrible way to convey information.”

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Biz Carson

Biz Carson ( @bizcarson) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol, covering Silicon Valley with a focus on startups and venture capital. Previously, she reported for Forbes and was co-editor of Forbes Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before that, she worked for Business Insider, Gigaom, and Wired and started her career as a newspaper designer for Gannett.

The cry-laughing emoji has absolutely earned this

Is it always sincere or even trendy? No. Does it serve its purpose? Absolutely.

The laugh-cry emoji has provided us with a codified process for indicating that we are all having a fun time here.

Photo: atomicstudio via Getty Images

In a stunning victory for the rights of people who find out about TikToks via Instagram Reels and have fond memories of Warped tour, the cry-laughing emoji has once again emerged from the fray as the most-used emoji of the year, according to data from the Unicode Consortium. The tearful grin, whose Christian name is “Face with Tears of Joy,” hasn’t relinquished its stranglehold on the top spot since 2015, when we as a nation were reeling from Zayn Malik’s One Direction exit, marveling at the Sisyphean efforts of pizza rat and becoming slowly numb to Uptown Funk. That was the same year that the teary-eyed grin was named Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year.

This is the second year that the Unicode Consortium, a nonprofit organization tasked with digitizing language, has released data (the first was in 2019). Other emoji in the top 10 include the red heart, sobbing face, face with heart eyes and Old Faithful, the venerable smiley face 😊. The Consortium notes that many of the most-used emoji’s placements have stayed consistent from its 2019 data, although the pleading face emoji (🥺) did make a noticeable leap from 97 to 14.

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Becca Evans
Becca Evans is a copy editor and producer at Protocol. Previously she edited Carrie Ann Conversations, a wellness and lifestyle publication founded by Carrie Ann Inaba. She's also written for STYLECASTER. Becca lives in Los Angeles.
Protocol | Policy

Inside the scramble to fix Biden’s plan for the future of the internet

The White House is planning to unveil its Alliance for the Future of the Internet this week following a month of pushback and a mad dash to reshape the ambitious proposal.

An initial proposal raised alarm bells with civil society groups and other U.S. government agencies alike.

Photo: Joe Daniel Price/Getty Images

The White House is set to announce plans this week for its much-anticipated Alliance for the Future of the Internet, a bid to rally a coalition of democracies around a vision for an open and free web.

But behind the scenes, digital rights advocates, foreign governments and even other U.S. officials have spent the last month scrambling to push the White House to rethink its initial plans, leaving the fine points of the proposal in flux with days to go before the big reveal.

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

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