Facebook has acquired voice recognition start-up Wit.ai in a move that is sure to see the social network harness the technology to more accurately target users with advertising.
Founded in Palo Alto, California, Wit.ai describes itself as the “natural language for the Internet of Things” which powers “hundreds of apps and devices”, allowing them to “turn speech into actionable data”.
Writing about the deal in a blog post, Wit.ai described its ultimate goal as “building machines that understand human languages”.
“It is an incredible acceleration in the execution of our vision. Facebook has the resources and talent to help us take the next step,” said Wit.ai.
“Facebook’s mission is to connect everyone and build amazing experiences for the over 1.3 billion people on the platform – technology that understands natural language is a big part of that, and we think we can help. The platform will remain open and become entirely free for everyone.”
Wit.ai was co-founded by Alex Lebrun, Willy Blandin and Laurent Landowski, who’ll all be joining Facebook, which will also hire some of the firm’s other employees, although the social media giant hasn’t stated how many of them will move. Facebook has also chosen not to reveal how much it has paid to purchase Wit.ai.
Facebook is likely to be most interested in the way Wit.ai can turn voice commands into structured data, potentially allowing the firm to target users with adverts that are more relevant to their interests. (Something the firm still arguably needs to badly work on, given the number of irrelevant advertisements that still appear in some users’ feeds.)
But the Wit.ai deal isn’t Facebook’s first attempt to tap into audio tools, having last year released a feature for the social network’s smartphone applications that can eavesdrop on what music tracks or television shows users listen to.
Facebook said the feature is designed to make it “quicker and easier” for those using Apple or Android smartphones to share a status about what it is they’re watching or listening to.
However, there were concerns that the app could also access the microphone on user’s smartphones and record conversations.
“Before the industry gives consent to this invasive eavesdropping, more transparency is required on the legalities and data security approach – lest this becomes yet another tool to spy on citizens throughout the world,” Mark Bower, VP of products and solutions at security software firm Voltage Security, told Computing.
This latest acquisition should perhaps serve as a warning to users that they should be careful not only about what they post on Facebook, but also about what they say out loud, especially given the firm’s poor reputation when it comes to privacy.