Google Voice: 5 Reasons to Use It, 5 Reasons to Think Twice

Google Voice: 5 Reasons to Think Twice

1. Privacy

As is the case with many Google products, privacy is a hot topic within discussions of Google Voice. By using Google Voice to control all of your phone activity, you're exposing a vast amount of personal information to Google. Everything from whom you call to what you discuss--yes, even in hazy late-night text messages you yourself may not remember--is stored on Google's servers. Together with the other various data Google may have on you, all of that could create quite a portfolio.

Is Google suddenly going to publish your entire life on the Web? Of course not. Like other Google services, Google Voice is governed by a privacy policy that explains what can and can't happen with your data (and, I think it's safe to say, selling your 3 a.m. texts to Penthouse Forum is not one of the approved options).

Still, the data is in someone else's hands, and it could be used for certain purposes outside of your own personal perusal. Some privacy advocates have expressed concerns that Google Voice may lead to "increased profiling and tracking of users without safeguards." Whether that's a problem is largely up to you, and how comfortable you feel with the situation.

2. Advertisements

As of now, Google Voice is completely cost-free and ad-free. The ad-free part could easily change, however. Just this week, one analyst told the New York Times that he expected Google to use the system to "help accelerate [its] mobile penetration by creating a larger mobile ecosystem against which Google can sell/target/monetize advertisements."

What's more, the fact that Google has so much of your information could play a key role in any future monetization plan: Much as Gmail has used content from your messages to determine what ads show on the page, Google Voice could use data about your calling habits or the content of your texts to customize ads within the service.

3. Reliability

We like to think that Google will never fail us--but the fact is, technology is fallible, and things do go wrong. The world has certainly seen plenty of Google-related service outages over the years, including one last month that took almost all Google products offline for a large number of users. It's frustrating to be unable to access your e-mail or RSS feeds; but for many people, the risk of not being able to receive any calls or text messages may be far more troubling.

So what if Google Voice does go down? Even if it's a rare occasion, are you okay with it? The idea isn't completely far-fetched: During last month's Google outage, some users who were a part of early Google Voice testing say that their Google number did stop working. "My wife called my number and actually got throu gh to a stranger," one user told xconomy.com. "This has got to NEVER happen again."

Other users have reported some less extreme problems using the service, such as failed call recordings and other similar issues. All of that is important to consider before you commit to depending entirely on any new system.

4. Caller ID confusion

If you start using a Google Voice number as your primary number, be prepared for the fact that regular calls from your cell phone (or any other phone) will still show up as your old number. This may create confusion, as the number you give out won't match the number from which you actually call.

Notably, the service does offer a way to make calls that will show as coming from the Google Voice number: You can go through the Web interface and type in a number, and then have Google dial you to begin the call; or you can dial your Google Voice number directly and then place the call through it. Regardless, it's an extra step that could prove to be cumbersome.

5. Number-changing hassle

Aside from the caller ID confusion, you'll have to get people to start reaching you at a new number. Particularly with the often-permanent nature of cell phone numbers nowadays, that may prove to be easier said than done. You might have to reprint business cards or stationery, and you'd have to take the time to update your information anywhere you have a registered account (the cable company, doctors' offices, and so on).

Google says it hopes to offer the option to port an existing number into Google Voice in the future. That capability, if and when it's introduced, would cut down on some of the hassle. Until it is introduced, though, be sure to think carefully about what's involved before you decide to make the move to the new service.

So there you have it: ample food for thought as you determine whether Google Voice is right for you. Of course, you still have to get an official Google invitation first. Gauging by the number of people who signed up, that could take a while -- so you probably have plenty of time to think.

Connect with JR Raphael on Twitter (@jr_raphael) or via his Web site, jrstart.com.

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