I know, I say that like it's a bad thing. Honestly, though, Google Voice rocks out loud and Google's announcement today of its public availability marks a significant step forward in the company's forays into telecommunications. ZDNet's Larry Dignan asks if this will take off among consumers. I'm more inclined to ask whether consumers fully understand what they're handing to Google if they do sign up.
As with most Google services, I fully expect that Google will retain my data for a long time. In most cases, I want them to. I don't want my email to get dumped, nor do I want important voicemails to disappear as they do with Verizon after a finite number of days. I'm even OK with Google offering me targeted ads based on my emails. If I must have ads to support the consumer version of the service, they may as well be for something I want. And Google, go ahead and index everything of mine...I want to be able to search it lighting fast.
That's me, though. I make my living writing about Google (among other things) and spend a fair amount of time thinking about the value vs. privacy equation. Let me take a step back, though. Here's a quick video explaining Google Voice and its features so that you can weigh these two parameters yourself, even if you're not familiar with how Google Voice works:
So it's great, right? A Gmail-style interface for your messages, including free SMS, right from any browser or smartphone, with decent speech-to-text email-style voicemail transcriptions (kiss my butt, Verizon, and keep your crappy, not-free, visual voicemail) and a single number that can always find you (no, that's a good thing for most of us)...what's not to love?
Well, as far as I'm concerned, there's nothing not to love, because I know full well that Google is looking for ways to monetize this. Not just the Voice service itself, but the information inherent in calling data and searchable voice content. My mom wouldn't think about this. She'd only know that her office or clients could reach her anytime, anywhere, regardless of whether she was on the road, at home, or somewhere in between, even when in between meant that there was no cell service.
My wife knows not to leave me tawdry messages on my Google voicemail, not because she gave any consideration to privacy implications of using Google Voice, but because I said, "Don't leave tawdry messages on my voicemail or I'll start getting male enhancement ads in my Gmail."
At the same time, I wonder if this might not be a killer app for enterprises, particularly as more and more businesses support telework. Not only can you find your employees instantly on any number they might be near but users can manage their voicemail from within their Google Apps or the dedicated Google Voice interface. And yet, would you want corporate voicemails stored with Google? Many of us are happy to store our emails with Google, either via consumer Gmail or Google Apps, but voicemail has always at least given the illusion of privacy. Can customers or colleagues shift expectations to match the new reality of Google Voice?
I'm not saying I don't trust Google. In fact, despite some very public and very unfortunate missteps, they've never betrayed my trust nor given me reason to think they would do anything untoward with my data, be it search, email, documents, or voice. It's more a matter of acknowledging that the use of Google Apps surrenders one more really significant bit of data to Google. If you're OK with that (I am; the service is too useful to me to abandon), then all the more power to you. If you (or your customers, or your mom, or the neighbor down the street) don't know what you need to be OK with, then Google needs to be more transparent as it makes this service widely available.