Maybe Phone Calls in Gmail are About Phone Calls in Gmail?

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What's Google's new Google-Voice-inside-Gmail feature about? It depends on who you ask.

Here's Ryan Singel of Wired:

Google Voice Wired Story

And here's Peter Nowak, author of a book and a blog called Sex, Bombs & Burgers:


Singel's theory is pretty uncontroversial: He says that Google added phone call capability to Gmail in part to encourage folks to use their Google Accounts more, helping to make Google more of a stay-logged-in-all-day hub like Facebook. I'm sure Google wouldn't describe it as a Facebook-related move. But it might well cheerfully agree that it wants people to have every reason to come back to Gmail again and again throughout the day. (It certainly didn't add voice calls to drive people away from Gmail...)

Nowak's take, however, is less straightforward. He explains that Google is working on translation technologies for use in future search products, and that it will mine voice-call audio to help these efforts:

In other words, free phone calls are the jackpot that Google has been looking for. While Skype and phone companies continue to try and find a way to squeeze pennies out of phone calls, for Google it's extremely valuable to give them away for nothing because it will help the company develop the next generation of search.

He doesn't say Google might plan to do this; he says that it is planning to do this. And he quotes Google Voice's privacy policy as evidence Google reserves the right to do so:

Google's computers process the information in your messages for various purposes, including formatting and displaying the information to you, playing you your messages, backing up your messages, and other purposes relating to offering you Google Voice.

I don't get the same gist out of this clause as Nowak does. For one thing, it refers to Google Voice "messages"-recorded voicemails, I assume-not phone calls. For another, the reference to "purposes relating to offering you Google Voice" sounds to me like it prevents use of data for other Google projects such as search rather than permits it.

And come to think of it, there's no way that the Google Voice privacy policy applies to all the calls that Gmail users will make. You can place outgoing calls from Gmail without evenhaving a Google Voice number-note that Google's blog post on the new feature only mentions Google Voice towards the end.

Gmail's own privacy policy presumably informs what Google can and can't do with Gmail calls, but it doesn't seem to address phone calls directly. It could use an update for sure.

(Side note: Google's terminology for all of Gmail's non-e-mail features is a bit fuzzy. There's Google Chat, which is the sidebar that lets you instant message and launch phone calls and Google Talk sessions. There's Google Talk, which is the computer-to-computer voice service. And there's whatever you call this new phone service, which is related to Google Voice and Google Talk but not identical to them. It would be easier to understand the relevant privacy policies if it were clearer what all this stuff is called.)

Anyhow, Nowak's spin on things is as much accusation as speculation: You gotta think that many people who might love Gmail's phone feature don't want Google digging into the content their phone calls for reasons that have nothing to do with this particular service. I've asked Google for a comment, and will let you know what it says.

This story, "Maybe Phone Calls in Gmail are About Phone Calls in Gmail?" was originally published by Technologizer.

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