“Nijta: The Revolutionary French Startup Protecting Voice Privacy in AI Applications”

This is particularly true in Europe in the context of GDPR: While many companies are hoping to build AI on top of voice data, in many cases, this requires removing biometric information first. This is where Nijta hopes to help: by providing AI-powered speech anonymization technology to clients that need to comply with privacy requirements. The startup also says that Nijta Voice Harbor’s protection is irreversible, unlike some of the voice modifications unwisely used by media outlets hoping to protect victims they interview. A lack of awareness of privacy issues around voice is one of the challenges Nijta will have to face. This is also why starting with B2B and Europe seems to make sense: Even if customers aren’t pushing for voice privacy, risking a hefty fine is turning companies into early adopters.

The mere sound of your voice can appear harmless at first, but it holds a wealth of information about you, including your identity and even your emotions. It can also unveil underlying health conditions that may affect you. Yet, many people have yet to fully grasp the implications of this fact. Companies that handle data are increasingly realizing the need to treat voice data as personally identifiable information. This has become especially crucial in Europe with the implementation of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). While many businesses are eager to harness the power of AI using voice data, they first need to remove sensitive biometric information.

“Nijta hopes to provide AI-powered speech anonymization technology to clients who must comply with strict privacy regulations.”

Nijta, named after the Hindi word for privacy, is a young B2B company based in Lille, France. Its CEO, Brij Srivastava, moved to France for his PhD at INRIA (the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation). The company was born out of Inria Startup Studio, a program designed to support PhD entrepreneurs in their quest to start their own business. Nijta’s success is evident, with €2 million in funding from various sources, including French deep tech VC fund Elaia and Lille-based investment firm Finovam Gestion.

“Europe is our primary market,” Srivastava reveals to TechCrunch. The reason is clear: “GDPR is a very strong data privacy law.” While voice anonymization can be applicable to multiple industries, Nijta’s focus is on combining compliance and business opportunities.

“Nijta’s AI-powered voice anonymization technology offers a solution for many enterprises who are increasingly concerned about data privacy and excited about generative AI,” states Céline Passedouet, investment director at Elaia.

Nijta’s list of potential clients includes call centers that handle sensitive data, particularly in the medical field. One of the company’s early collaborations was on a project called Oky Doky, which aimed to improve the handling of medical emergency calls. While AI can be a valuable tool in this scenario, it is crucial to anonymize voices to protect the privacy of both the callers and the patients’ data used for training purposes.

Nijta’s technology also has applications in defense, although Srivastava cannot provide further details. It also sees potential in the education sector, where children’s voices must be anonymized before using AI to provide them with feedback on their pronunciation, for example.

“The content generated by Nijta is watermarked to ensure its authenticity, which is becoming the industry standard.”

Nijta ensures that its voice anonymization technology is irreversible, setting it apart from other methods that have proven to be unreliable, such as voice modifications used by media outlets attempting to protect interviewees.

One of the challenges Nijta faces is the lack of awareness surrounding privacy issues in regards to voice. This is why starting with B2B clients in Europe seems like a sensible move, as companies are increasingly aware of the risks of not protecting voice data. The fear of hefty fines is turning them into early adopters.

However, Nijta’s future plans involve expanding into the B2C market, with a focus on securing recorded messages. “Real-time anonymization for secure communication is also something that we are actively exploring,” Srivastava reveals. This is, however, a long-term goal as the company, with a small team of only seven members, must be cautious in spreading itself too thin.

“Our small team of seven, including myself, my two full-time co-founders, Seyed Ahmad Hosseini and Nathalie Vauquier, and my former professor, senior research scientist and part-time co-founder Emmanuel Vincent, will hopefully grow to ten people by June.”

To assist in efforts that the startup would not be able to pursue on its own, Nijta receives external support, particularly from Business France. Srivastava explains: “Because we are small, we cannot afford to hire many salespeople in different countries.” Instead, they rely on Business France representatives in specific countries to handle prospecting, with most of the costs being subsidized by the Hauts-de-France region where Lille is located. This partnership has even opened doors for Nijta in the United States, particularly in the state of Maryland.

It is no surprise that Srivastava is frequently asked why he chose to establish Nijta in Lille instead of Paris. He is quick to highlight the advantages, not only of Lille but also of France as a whole. The company’s location in the northernmost part of the country provides easy access to major cities like Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, and London. However, to expand globally, Nijta understands the need to incorporate multilingual capabilities into its technology. It is already working on this challenge, with plans to target markets in Europe and Asia.

“With an expected additional funding of €1 million from Bpifrance’s deep tech development aid, we will be able to focus on R&D and continue to answer the question of why we chose to establish Nijta in France.”

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Max Chen

Max Chen is an AI expert and journalist with a focus on the ethical and societal implications of emerging technologies. He has a background in computer science and is known for his clear and concise writing on complex technical topics. He has also written extensively on the potential risks and benefits of AI, and is a frequent speaker on the subject at industry conferences and events.

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