By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

How Google’s phone services are pushing the law

I made my first phone call with Gmail this morning — to Mrs. Media Nation, who was sitting in the kitchen, about 20 feet away. This is very exciting, and is likely to revolutionize phone-calling. Not just to the kitchen, either.

Farhad Manjoo of Slate tells you everything you need to know.

Gmail-calling does raise two interesting questions:

  1. Given how popular this may prove to be, is the series of tubes wide enough to handle the traffic? This may prove to be a huge test for broadband capacity.
  2. Will Gmail-calling prove to be the death knell for laws that prohibit you from recording your phone conversations without permission?

My second question requires some explanation. I am now planning to run out and sign up for Google Voice. Now that I’ve seen the glory of placing a call from my computer, I want to be able to receive, too. And Google Voice lets you record your calls if you wish.

This is fully in accordance with the overall Gmail philosophy. Google encourages you to save all except your most trivial e-mail messages. It does so by giving you enormous capacity to store your mail on its servers and to search through them instantaneously.

Gmail Chat, which I also use from time to time, saves everything as well.

Massachusetts is one of a number of states in which it’s illegal to secretly record a phone conversation (or a chance encounter on the street, for that matter). I teach my journalism students that if they want to record a phone interview, they should get permission, press “record,” and then say, “I just turned on my recorder. Is that all right with you?” That way, you’ve not only got permission, you’ve got proof.

But with Google encouraging a recording/sharing culture, are we going to end up with millions of accidental law-breakers? What will be the best approach for dealing with that — changing the law or educating the public?

Google Talk may well prove to be yet another example of technology running ahead of the law.

Instant update: Carly Carioli and Bob Ambrogi tell me that Google already offers protections against secret recording. See this. In fact, now I’m tempted to say that Google doesn’t go far enough. If it sends out an automated message informing the other party that a call is being recorded, then why not allow that on outgoing as well as incoming calls?

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  1. Dan, I could be dead wrong about this — because even though I have Google voice, I haven’t actually tried to record an incoming call. But when I looked into the procedure (because it sounded like a great tool for recording interviews) it seemed you could only record _incoming_ calls, and the command to begin recording the call would supposedly generate a message on the call that informed the other party you were recording.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Carly: Ah, ha! Well, obviously I should have held off until I’d tested it myself.

  2. Mary HIlton

    Perhaps the pioneering conversation would engendered greater satisfaction had you hewed to the script from Thos. Watson and A. G. Bell and someone had said “come here I need you.”

  3. Mike Benedict

    Not sure I see the value of Google Voice over other cheap VoIP like Skype.

    And any voice technology that requires you to be tethered to your PC will fly only so high.

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