The BBC is Developing its Own Voice Assistant So You Might Not Hand Your Data Over to Big Tech

By Shabana Arif on at

There are plenty of voice assistants out there already, so there's got to be a good reason for someone wanting to wade into a fairly established marketplace with their own. For the BBC, that incentive is your data.

The Beeb is the BBC's digital voice assistant that is currently in development for a 2020 launch. The assistant is being designed for use with the BBC's media apps, and while there are no plans for an accompanying Beeb smart speaker, the software will be available for any manufacturer who wants to incorporate it into their own hardware.

The BBC is trialling Beeb with its staff to ensure that it can understand regional UK accents - something which smart speaker owners describe as being a pain in the arse.

While it's been working on Beeb, the BBC has been withdrawing some of its content from platforms like TuneIn, explaining that the decision has been driven by the lack of access to your data.

"Data is more and more important – as it helps us to make more types of programmes we know people like, and equally importantly, identify gaps in our commissioning to ensure we’re making something for all audiences. We also use the data collected about what you watch, listen to or read online to offer personalised programme recommendations – and make our services even more tailored to you."

Third parties, like TuneIn, collect your data and have a data sharing agreement with the BBC - whoever's content is on the platform - but these terms don't appear to be agreeable anymore, with the BBC wanting all your juicy deets for itself.

"With an assistant of its own, the BBC will have the freedom to experiment with new programmes, features and experiences without someone else’s permission to build it in a certain way," explained a BBC spokesperson. "It will also allow the BBC to be much more ambitious in the content and features that listeners can enjoy.”

The BBC has also made further comments to allay concerns about privacy, particularly in light of the fact that Amazon's Alexa has been recording children without consent, and Microsoft has been hiring contractors to listen Xbox and Cortana voice commands.

"People know and trust the BBC, so it will use its role as public service innovator in technology to ensure everyone – not just the tech-elite – can benefit from accessing content and new experiences in this new way,” added the spokesperson, completely underestimating how ridiculous that sounds. [The Guardian via The Verge]