Lost in all the hooplah about the release of Google Voice is this disturbing fact: The service will give Google enormous amounts of information about the intimate details of your everyday life, including recordings of your voice mail and possibly your phone calls. Combined with what Google already knows about you, it could mean your privacy is at an end.
Google Voice, by all accounts, may be the best tool every for managing your telephone communications. It routes all of your calls through a single number, and can then ring all of your phones simultaneously. You can manage your voice mail with it, including getting free transcripts of your calls. It includes free voice conferencing, inexpensive overseas calls, and plenty more. You'll also be able to record and store your calls online.
But all that information about your calls will be routed through Google. Google will know everyone who called you and when they called. They'll have records of your voice mail, and because they offer free transcription, it means they'll have not just the voice, but text of your calls as well. They'll have recordings of your phone calls --- and I would expect them to offer transcriptions of them as well, which means they'll have the transcriptions as well as your calls.
Google Voice will be offered for free. Google, though, will certainly be looking for ways to make money from it. One of the most obvious ways is via targeted advertising, particularly because the company recently announced that it's going to figure out new ways to target ads based on your interests. It already does this with Gmail. So don't be surprised to see ad targeted based on who calls you.
Doing that means that Google will be mining data from your calls, possibly including what is being said on the calls themselves. It already does the equivalent of this in Gmail, looking for key words, and then displaying ads based on those words.
Privacy advocates are already worried. Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, when interviewed by the New York Times, has this warning about the service: "In the privacy world, it is increased profiling and tracking of users without safeguards."
Google already has a profile about your interests and surfing habits. If you use Gmail, it examines the content of your mail as a way to target ads. With Google Voice, it will know who you're talking to, and when you're talking to them --- and will have records of your voice mail, and possibly recordings of your actual calls themselves.
Given that, will there anything about your personal life that Google won't know about you?
What's next: Google Bedroom? I don't even want to think about that one.
This story, "Google Voice: The End of Our Personal Privacy?" was originally published by Computerworld.