My Theory: Maybe Phone Calls in Gmail are About Phone Calls in Gmail?

By  |  Thursday, August 26, 2010 at 9:56 am

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

Here’s Ryan Singel of Wired:

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 even having 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.


Read more: , , ,

10 Comments For This Post

  1. The Casual Gamerz Says:

    Perhaps we could be looking @ a whole different form of integration regarding Social Gaming and Voice (something Facebook REALLY doesn't have yet). Worth considering regarding Google's recent gathering of Social Gaming companies.

  2. Muay Thai Says:

    Would be a good step forward. Muay Thai Combinations | Muay Thai Kick | Martial Arts for Children

  3. swildstrom Says:

    Does anyone know how these Gmail Voice calls are categorized for regulatory purposes? If they are considered voice telephony, they are subject to very stringent restrictions, far more so than data communications. Google couldn't mine them for anything because they could not legally listen to them. I'm not even sure they could use the call setup data. (If the call is connected to the public switched telephone network, it is definitely voice telephony and subject to wiretap law.)

  4. Jon Says:

    "Google Voice, which is another free calling service that lets smartphone owners use their data plan rather than their voice plan to make calls."

    That is blatantly false, always take what is said from those who try to sell you their books with a pinch of salt.

  5. PopePeter Says:

    Planning to? Did you read the terms for the voicemail text transcription? If you want text versions of of your voicemail? You have to give them the right to listen to the calls – so they can do the transcription. Data is where Google makes its money.

  6. @xfrosch Says:

    After the flops of Wave and Buzz, it's gonna take more than free phone calls to bring people back to GMail. Already most of the people who sent me personal email have moved to Facebook messaging.

  7. Schwedenhaus Passivhaus Says:

    Good day. Very nice blog!! Guy .. Beautiful .. Amazing .. I will bookmark your web site and take the feeds also…I am happy to locate a lot of helpful info right here in the post. Thanks for sharing Check out my site on Green Housing Schwedenhaus .

  8. AlenCoder Says:

    I don't know about you but shopping online can get you many discounts. Such as arvixe coupon code and the best of all, when ever you are searching for stuff online, try searching for discount codes.

  9. jurgenliastr Says:

    Thanks for sharing. i really appreciate it that you shared with us such a informative post..
    Theses, Coursework, Assignment

  10. jurgenliastr Says:

    The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter — it's the difference between a lightning bug and the lightning.
    Dissertation Writing, Assignment Writing