Thursday, March 12, 2009

I Have a Crush on This Company

I do. I have a crush on Google, notwithstanding that they failed to give me a job and are therefore necessarily condemned to fail and go under in the future — most likely as a result of a lousy judgment call by someone in the company's legal department.

All right, Phutsie. Take a deep breath. Inhale deeply, now exhale.

Now pull yourself together and continue.

All right. I can do this. I can. The latest (if not the greatest) insurgency bubbling up from the guerrillas in Mountain View is Google Voice, a free service that will allow subscribers to choose a central Google-based phone number. Calls to the Google number will ring all your other phones (or as many as you associate with the Google number), simultaneously. Users can have voice mails left on the Google number forwarded to them in email, and the grafting of speech-to-text technology onto this service will enable full-text searching of voice mail. Pretty cool.

Cue the Privacy People to come in and warn us about Google gathering even more of our information: they'll know who called you, they'll have recordings of the messages you left. You know, just like all the phone companies do now. Ooh: scary. The Privacy People may have a point that Google's many products afford it an unprecedented amount of information with which it could build a profile of you if it so chose. But geez: if your phone company is your ISP, they may have a log of the websites you visit. And if your phone company handles your email, they may store copies of your messages on their servers, too. What makes Google any more insidious and terrifying than The Phone Company?

We do have privacy laws (most notably the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act), after all — and phone calls and voice mail messages stored, routed, and delivered via Google Voice will be just as subject to these laws as anybody else. Oh, sure, maybe they are rumbling about planting gigantic server-barges in international waters, but whatever. I'm increasingly convinced that since the GMail data-mining PR fiasco — itself a whole lot of sound and fury that ultimately didn't signify much — Privacy People are hard-wired to give reflexive warnings about Big Brother every time Google releases a product. But then again, I'm starry-eyed, love-lorn, and probably not capable of objectivity on this question.

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