Google and the live caption give and take

The give...

cartoon of hand holding a smartphone

This week, alongside the buzz around the release of the new versions of the Pixel 4a and Pixel 5 later in the year, Google announced that the live captioning feature would now be available for phone calls. 

The live caption feature available on Google’s Pixel phones is an important accessibility feature that allows live captioning to be switched on when your phone is playing any audio. That has previously included content such as podcasts or videos, but has not been available for calls, until now.

With live captioning of phone calls switched on, any person dialling your Pixel phone will receive an automated voice message informing them that their speech will be live-transcribed. And, when they connect, you'll see their speech appear on the screen of your phone.

The processing of the audio is carried out on-device rather than sent to the cloud for processing - this was the innovation announced last year at Google IO and a big step in the right direction with regards to worries about privacy. 

The take...

Cartoon graphic of a hand pressing a tablet displaying the YouTube logo

This comes on the heels of Google’s announcement that it is ending the community captions feature in YouTube that allows any users to add captions to YouTube content.

Google’s announcement stated: "This feature was rarely used and had problems with spam/abuse so we're removing them to focus on other creator tools”.

The move has been seen as a blow for content creators in terms of reaching an international audience, with many creators relying on a multi-lingual network of fans to translate content into local languages.

But it has arguably been felt most keenly in the accessibility community. Deaf YouTuber Rikki Poynter tweeted that the community captions feature was: “Not just for deaf people so more channels will have captions, but for disabled creators who can't manually do them or have the income to pay for them: which is most of us.”

It is widely recognised that online communities often suffer from the actions of a few ‘bad apples’, and there were cases where the community subtitling had been used as a channel for abuse. But the general consensus seems to be that it'd be better to look for innovations to address these issues, rather than killing the feature completely. 

Community captions will join the Google Graveyard on September 28th 2020. The option for the creator/uploader to caption videos remains, as does automatic captioning and any third-party tool integrations. 

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