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Google's Listening

Sarah Thomas

3:00 PM -- Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) plans to monetize its new VoIP calling service through charging for international calls, but if its other lines of business are any indication, this too is actually about advertising. (See Google Gives Telcos a Wakeup Call.)

Most Gmail users are, by now, accustomed to seeing their emails accompanied by advertisements that are suspiciously similar to the content of the emails they send. Most have come to peace with this, says Forrester Research Inc. analyst Charles Golvin, but they may not be so accepting of Google listening to their phone calls in order to target ads.

"Whenever you talk about Google's business model, there's only one answer, and that's advertising... But the creepiness factor of Google listening to your phone call raises people's concern much higher than reading your emails," Golvin says.

Advertisers are likely to tread carefully here though. Not just because of the creepiness factor, but because of the transcription quality of Google Voice. Golvin says that it'd be hard to convince an advertiser to invest in ads knowing the often less than accurate relationship between the actual content of a voicemail and the transcription.

Goldman Sachs analyst James Mitchell pointed out in a note to investors today that Google will have to continue to pay the telcos tens of millions of dollars per year in termination fees that it hopes to recoup by keeping people in Gmail longer. That suggests that Google may be content with serving up more targeted ads in the email service, rather than enter into voice targeting.

But, again, a quick look at Google's other forays, including online, mobile phone software and hardware, and TV, and it's clear that it is always about advertising.

Be careful what you say.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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12/5/2012 | 4:25:22 PM
re: Google's Listening

Wow, is it just the government that isn't allowed to listen into phone calls?

12/5/2012 | 4:25:21 PM
re: Google's Listening

It's actually a serious policy question to decide what the "free market" has the rights to do and what are our privacy rights.  Leaning on silly ideology that "regulation bad" and "free market good" falls on its face per absurdum.

So what are the rules?  I believe Eric Schmidt says an individual basically has no privacy rights and anything you do is available for market consumption.  Got breast cancer and want to keep that information private?  No can do because you searched for information about it on GOOG and they're selling your search cache to whoever is willing to pay anything at all for that information.  And per Schmidt, if you didn't want the world to know you have breast cancer maybe you shouldn't have went out and got it in the first place!

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