FTC soliciting contest submissions to help tackle voice cloning fraud

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is now accepting submissions for a contest designed to spur development of products and policies to protect consumers from the malicious use of voice cloning technology, which has been fueled by the advance of text-to-speech artificial intelligence capabilities.

The challenge is an effort by the FTC to speed the evolution of what it called multidisciplinary approaches to monitor and stop scammers from exploiting voice cloning technology to harm consumers.

Submissions opened on Tuesday and are due January 12. Information for how to apply can be found on the agency website. The winner will receive $25,000.

Voice cloning technology is increasingly state-of-the-art and offers some legitimate uses, such as helping people with impaired voices who cannot speak on their own or as a convenience for hands-free drivers. However, it can also be used by scammers to impersonate voices and trick victims.

In March, the FTC warned the public that voice cloning technology can be used to extort money and personal information, describing how voices are often perfectly matched, allowing victims to be tricked into believing a scammer is a distraught family member in need of financial help.

To date the FTC has not pursued any enforcements involving voice cloning. Some victims don’t realize voice cloning has been used to trick them.

The contest submissions must include specific elements, including addressing how to prevent unauthorized users from harnessing voice cloning software; improving consumers’ ability to sniff out voice cloning in real time; and offering a way for consumers to detect if cloned voices appear in audio clips.

“We will use every tool to prevent harm to the public stemming from abuses of voice cloning technology,” Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a prepared statement when the agency first announced the challenge in November. “We want to address harms before they hit the marketplace, and enforce the law when they do.”

The FTC has previously held similar challenges to take on robocalls and Internet of Things devices’ security vulnerabilities.

In announcing the challenge, the FTC highlighted that AI technology and voice cloning cannot be tackled merely by technology. The agency said that it plans to use its enforcement authorities, including rulemaking and law enforcement actions, to protect users from AI-enabled fraud.

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Suzanne Smalley is a reporter covering privacy, disinformation and cybersecurity policy for The Record. She was previously a cybersecurity reporter at CyberScoop and Reuters. Earlier in her career Suzanne covered the Boston Police Department for the Boston Globe and two presidential campaign cycles for Newsweek. She lives in Washington with her husband and three children.

 

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