Is Google Voice a Privacy Nightmare?

The internet has been buzzing in anticipation for the public release of Google Voice. The service never completely opened up last week but invites have begun to slowly trickle out.

There is no doubt that a service like Google Voice is a telecommunication game changer. It offers a menu of insanely useful features:

  • Advanced call and caller routing
  • Powerful call screening and the ability to listen to a voicemail as it’s being recorded
  • Transcribed voicemail that can be archived and shared
  • SMS Archiving
  • Call recording

Like all technology Google Voice is a double edged sword and not without inherent flaws and potential for abuse. As far as individual privacy is concerned, the service’s rich features are both it’s strength and vulnerability.

The features are a privacy strength for Google because they will have full access to a wealth of private user information by scanning users phone calls, voice mails, and text messages. They will use that data for a multitude of purposes but mainly to drive contextual advertising to a user.

Last week Mike Elgan wrote an excellent article for Computerworld, Why Google Voice is Free, where he correctly pointed out the following:

Google users are the “product” — users are not Google’s customers. By this I mean that Google is selling information about its users to advertisers, which are the company’s real customers.

Many have suggested that the level of voicemail transcription accuracy could mean that humans are manually transcribing complex messages while simple ones are handled by machines. How would you feel about someone, anyone, listening to a personal message left by a friend or loved one?

There will be also be thorny legal issues that arise from recorded conversations and transcribed voicemails. Sure, we have always had the ability to record a conversation. It will just be more convenient for more people in the future with the inevitable large amount of Google Voice users.

Many people continue to use Gmail fully aware that their data is always being scanned, used, and sold. Will Google Voice take our privacy concerns to a new level. Will you sign up for the service knowing the risks and privacy concerns?

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