Google Voice your personal PBX if you can get by the Privacy Policy


Last Thursday, I received an invite to Google Voice (a.k.a. GrandCentral) after signing up for the beta months ago, a detail I’d practically forgotten. Google Voice is:

…a service that gives you one number for all your phones, voicemail that is easy as email, and many enhanced calling features like call blocking and screening, voicemail transcripts, call conferencing, international calls, and more.

imageIn other words it’s sort of like having a personal PBX. The feature set (see below) is rich not to mention free, at least for now:

I could easily see Google extending this for small businesses much like Google Apps for Domains which could be an interesting play in that space particularly given my company’s need for a phone system.

When you sign up for Google Voice you get to select your phone number with an option to choose from within a specific area or zip code. My area code (831) was available and within that area code I could choose a Santa Cruz prefix (among other surrounding cities/towns) and I paired that with a memorable last 4 digits.

Another feature of Google Voice optional transcription of calls though in a few test calls I’ve found it might convey the “gist” of the call but can get quite mangled. For example, you can see above a test call where I said “This is a test call using Google Voice trying to call my cell phone from my home phone in Scotts Valley California.” and you can see the result. Nonetheless, it’s a cool feature I’m sure will improve over time.

Here’s the GMail-like web UI (running in Prism):

Google Voice web UI

One minor detail: The Privacy Policy

This is all very cool although the biggest hurdle for me is the Privacy Policy which details the kind of information Google collects through this service. While it’s not really unusual nor unexpected it details how your information will be collected and used including:

When you use Google Voice, Google’s servers automatically record certain information about your use of Google Voice. Similar to other web services, Google Voice records information such as account activity (including storage usage, number of log-ins), data displayed or clicked on (including UI elements, links); and other log information (including browser type, IP-address, date and time of access, cookie ID, and referrer URL). Google’s servers also automatically collect telephony log information (including calling-party number, forwarding numbers, time and date of calls, duration of calls, SMS routing information, and types of calls).

There’s also a bit about transcription:

Voicemail Transcription – if you use Google Voice’s voicemail transcription service, Google may transcribe voicemail messages into text and email and/or SMS the resulting text to the email account or phone number(s) designated in your user settings. Google’s computers process the information in your messages for various purposes, including formatting and displaying the information to you, delivering related links, backing up your messages, and other purposes relating to offering you Google Voice.

Clearly, Google mines your data like it does for everything it offers though this service IMO goes further in that you’re more or less accepting the Privacy Policy on behalf of anyone calling you especially considering there’s no way for a caller to know you’re using Google Voice as it’s transparent.

I’ll experiment Google Voice for awhile but I’m not sure I’m ready to turn this amount of information over to Google regardless of Don’t be Evil.

Are you using Google Voice?

4 thoughts on “Google Voice your personal PBX if you can get by the Privacy Policy

  1. I’m in Santa Cruz as well. How long did it take you to get your invite? I’m thinking the wait might be related to the availability of phone numbers in the target area.

  2. Hi Bruce,
    Thanks for the comment. I waited several months at least from the time I first requested an invite. I will say that I was the first person in my immediate group of friends who applied to get an account though most everyone seemed to get an account a few weeks after that.

  3. How can we use Google voice as a PBX? i.e. something for "hours press 1" "for directions press 2"…
    Or in simple words how to setup a Virtual PBX using a Virtual phone number.
    I have to set up for a church am looking for a economical solution using a virtual number from Google Voice.

  4. raj,
    Google voice doesn’t function as a pure PBX where you can setup options such as your suggestion. When I said personal I meant that it works well for an individual answering personal calls rather than call routing.

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