Do you want Google near your voice mail?

March 23, 2009 by Garrett Smith

I know I don’t.

Over the past few days the relaunch of GrandCentral as Google Voice has generated a robust discussion about what Google is planning to do with voice. Thoughts range from Google building a standalone SOHO voice offering to Google using Google voice to bolster other offerings.

But there’s one thought that keeps popping-up. It’s the idea that Google voice will eventually provide the ability to derive context from your voice calls and voice mail for the purposes of archiving and retrieval at a later date.

Call me a conspiracy theorist if you want, but the thought that someone has the ability to scan my phone calls and voice mails is scary. Especially an advertising company like Google.

It’s bad enough advertisers can find out way too much about me through social networks – I’ll pass on having them be able to “target my phone conversations.”

What’s even scarier about this is that there are people out there who want this sort of capability. That’s sort of like asking the government for a wire tap so that you can listen to your calls at a later date (and so too can they).

Perhaps most people just don’t get that there is always a business reason behind companies offering feature sets they’d be a little more cautious of what they asked for.

Then again maybe people want their phone call interrupted by an ad. They’re comfortable giving up their privacy in exchange for a “sweet new feature” that they don’t have to pay for.

I’m not. That’s why I want Google far away from my voice mail. How about you?


  • The more I think about it, the more I really do not mind if google archives my voicemail. It may actually come in handy. There have been TONS of times I wished I had a voicemail that I deleted. And no times that I ca remember that I had a voicemail I was paranoid about other hearing.

    If they want to insert targeted ads to support this, I really do not care. As long as it is as secure as possible I do not mind.

  • Your post just gave me a “duh moment.” I had been wondering why Google would be willing to give voice mail transcription (voice mail-to-text) at no charge. Duh..text is easier for them to scan for ad opportunities.

    People do have a choice, though. All of the capabilities of Google Voice (and then some!) are available for a price on a secure server(s) behind the corporate firewall. Free usually has a trade-off. In the case of Google Voice, it might be privacy.

  • Advertising has to change. Newspapers and periodicals are dying. Television is the same thing thanks to our DVRs.

    The old world of advertising – shotgun approach. Doesn’t work. We as consumers don’t allow it.

    Google adwords works. I like advertising my services to local folks searching for my keywords. This model makes sense and his beneficial to both advertisers and consumers.

    The world is changing and Google doesn’t have all the answers, but apparently some. Better than some of the TV stations that are now advertising shows (soon products) during the show with annoying popups.

    The idea of intelligent advertising based on passive queues is pretty darn smart. It isn’t big brother as long as you have a choice.

  • Garrett Smith

    @ Dave

    I completely agree that advertising has to change, will change and that Google will be a driver.

    Even though people have a “choice” most get blinded by FREE. If they really “knew” what they were getting into, I think they’d look at things differently.

    I believe that Google and all others have a responsibility to protect those that can’t protect themselves…not exploit them via FREE services.

  • Randy Arrowood

    @Garrett: I’ll be as brief as possible about this. You’re reluctant to allow Google to store and transcribe your voicemail. I get that. Your reasons are your own, and that’s fine.

    You suggested in the comments of the post that you linked to that the commenter “why not urge your phone provider to develop a simple voicemail management system by which you can tag, sort and search your voicemails?” Let me ask you; how is this unknown provider of voicmemail more trustworthy than Google?

    People that complain about privacy and security as it relates to Google always seem to have some motive or conflict of interest. I am not calling in to question your honesty, but a blog hosted on a site that in essence sells voicemail and complains about Google Voice seems to me to be a bit disingenuous.

    Any provider of any service that hosts your information and stores it on their servers is a risk. At any time they could start a program that scans email and voicemail and in turn sell that information for the purpose of targeting ads and services. It would not be a stretch at all. All it would take to tie you to a third party ad network that buys data about you and your phone messages or emails from any provider would be a browser cookie.

    Is Google targeting ads at me based on my email and voicemail? Yes. I use the service any way because everyone else in the business either already is doing the same thing, want to do the same thing or will be doing the same thing. It’s all about maximizing revenue per user and at the end of the day I rather trust Google as opposed to Verizon or AT&T or Sprint.

  • Garrett Smith

    @ Randy

    I hate to kick the legs out on your response, but tag, sort and search is different than record, transcribe and index.

    In my statement YOU have privacy and increased management capabilities for your voice mail.

    In the later example, the one which was suggested Google provide, Google translates your VM to text, then indexes and allows you to sort – and will sell ads next to it.

    What I suggested gives users better control over their voice mail box, not exploits them via a FREE service.

    And to be fair to Google, I don’t trust most companies – especially those who offer “FREE services” because as a business professional I know there is no such thing.

    P.S. We don’t sell “voice mail.” We do however sell VoIP phone systems that come with voice mail capability.

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