Using voice technology in financial services

We helped the broker PlanetHome to bring to market the first app on Alexa, Amazon's voice controlled virtual assistant, enabling customers to procure its service through voice recognition software. It is axiomatic of factors such as changing technologies, evolving consumer trends and increased regulatory and data environments giving rise to both challenge and opportunity. Enabling PlanetHome to innovate in that context is something that gets right to the centre of our DNA as a business.

The Challenge

PlanetHome offers lending and brokerage services for the German real estate market. Faced with increasing competition, the company sought to become the first business of its kind to offer customers access to services via Alexa. This approach was innovative, but risked being sunk by privacy issues. The challenge for the legal team was to create an intuitive and engaging, yet legally robust, compliance solution.

PlanetHome wouldn't be able to bring its new app to market successfully if it couldn't find a way to seek the necessary customer consents without recourse to the traditional web-based online form.

The Solution

There was no real case law, or relevant guidance from data protection authorities, for an app of this type. Absent of that, our team focused on exploring how traditional data privacy agreements could be evolved in such a way that it would comply:

  • with GDPR, and
  • the technical environment set by the Alexa App Store

The aim was to achieve this without negatively affecting its main benefits - convenience and efficiency.

This required the development of a legal framework that would deal with the limited options available on the Alexa App Store to place GDPR compliant Data Privacy Policies, while also giving the users enough information to make an informed decision about the app's usage of their data.

We had to consider the interaction of the data processing activities undertaken by the PlanetHome app while also taking into account the processing of voice data by Amazon. This proved to be especially difficult since Amazon does not fully disclose its voice data processing procedures.

PlanetHome's Head of Marketing was determined to turn his innovative idea into a reality, irrespective of legal advice from other advisers who argued that the app could expose Planet Home to risks including significant financial penalties or costly litigation.

Pinsent Masons was instructed for its extensive expertise in technology and its history of setting legal precedents for newly developed offerings. Bringing the application to market hinged on our team's ability to provide Planet Home's management with the necessary level of comfort that it was possible to launch an app that would comply with the letter and spirit of the law.

Pinsent Masons was instructed for its extensive expertise in technology and its history of setting legal precedents for newly developed offerings.

To achieve this, we undertook a detailed analysis of how GDPR would apply to this new channel of marketing, considering among other things:

  • how the legal regime operates in respect of voice technologies applied in different contexts such as GPS systems within the automotive sector for instance;
  • whether using Alexa would enable Amazon to listen to conversations between the consumer and Planet Home.

Based upon this review the team was ultimately able to devise an unprecedented suite of documentation – including a script with 'yes' or 'no' consents – to illustrate how attendant risks could be addressed.

The result

Having provided PlanetHome with the comfort it needed to proceed, the app was brought to market, becoming the first service of its kind to be made available on a virtual assistant through voice control.

The team's application of a GDPR compliant privacy policy to a new area of technology has enabled PlanetHome to take advantage of a marketing channel that takes them straight into the homes of their audience. Since launch a number of bank and brokerage services have sought to replicate the solution.

With analysts predicting that sales of smart home devices with voice control will rise to 32.3 million in 2025, and voice technology increasingly seen as the way of the future, the framework developed by Pinsent Masons has the potential to become the market standard.


Out-Law / Your daily need to know

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