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Privacy Issues of Google Voice

Google Voice is an online, mobile-phone, voicemail application. As explained in PC World Google Docs Review, Google Voice provides powerful features despite the privacy issues it shares with other Google applications.

When you search for information through the Google search engine, Google stores that search record as long as forever. However, to protect customers’ privacy, Google is anonymizing (making anonymous) its stored search records. For more information, see:

  • Anonymizing Google’s Server Log Data
  • Google Halves Data Retention Time

When you use a Google application to send data to a Google server, and then delete that data, Google continues storing it for at least 30 days. For example:

  • If you send or receive a voicemail message through Google Voice, and then delete it, Google stores it as long as forever. After you permanently erase voicemail by deleting it from trash, it remains on active servers for as long as 90 days, and on backup servers as long as forever.
  • If you send or receive an email message through Gmail, and then delete it, Google stores it for as long as 90 days. After you permanently erase email by deleting it from trash, it remains on active servers for as long as 30 days, and on backup servers for as long as an additional 60 days.
  • If you create a Google Docs Document, Presentation, or Spreadsheet, and then delete that file, Google stores it for as long as 90 days. After you permanently erase the Google Docs file by deleting it from trash, it remains on active servers for as long as 30 days, and on backup servers for as long as an additional 60 days.

People often react to Google’s long-term data storage through either of two extremes: “We are doomed!” or “We have no problems.” A third reaction is probably most reasonable: “Use Google wisely.”

We are Doomed?

Some people believe that civilization is collapsing because Google tracks all our work and communications. ‘Google managers are bad guys, all of whom are socially-irresponsible data predators. These bosses order their workers to spy on all our searches, emails, voicemails, and Google Docs files. They are trying to steal our identities. We should abandon all technology and move back to the caves.’

We Have No Problems?

Some people believe that Google does no harm by keeping all our data on file. ‘Google managers are good people, all of whom are socially-responsible data protectors. These leaders would never order their workers to spy on us or otherwise misuse our information. They use internal mechanisms to protect our identity. We should embrace all corporate technology, and trust it to benefit us automatically and perpetually.’

Use Google Wisely

Using Google (and all computer and internet tools) wisely can help us protect our privacy. If we are careful, we are not doomed. If we admit that we do have possible problems, we can try to solve them.

Even if we destroy all our mobile phones and computers, and relearn how to communicate through postal mail and copper-wire telephones, our communications can never be 100% secure or private. Even registered postal mail can be stolen. Any phone can be tapped. Your best security tool is your own common sense; if you are careless with private data, whether through an internet application, a pen and ink letter, or back-fence whispers, you might lose that data.

Even if a corrupt group of investment bankers fails to take over Google, its management structure could self-corrupt and devolve enough to create sinister privacy policies. Therefore, we need to exercise good netizenship (internet citizenship) by paying attention to what Google says and does, how well it really protects our privacy, and to how well it coordinates with various government regulatory agencies. Although Google is a public corporation, it ‘belongs’ to its users as much as to its stockholders.

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