Google is now apparently showing its patriotism by offering free calling to our U.S. soldiers serving overseas. It's not a novel idea, but it might help some families save money, which is good. But is this really a selfless offer on Google's part?
Let's look at the basic requirements:
To start making free calls, follow these 2 steps:
Step 1: Add your .mil address to your Google Account:
Sign in on the Google Accounts homepage.
Click Edit next to 'Email addresses.'
Add your .mil email in the 'Add an additional email address' field.
Click Save. You will receive an email at your .mil address.
Open the verification email and click the verification link.
Step 2: Click the 'Call phone' link in your chat roster and use the dialpad to make calls. You may be prompted to install the Voice & Video Chat plugin.
Did you catch all of that?
First, Google requires the troops to register their mlitary emails, Google will now have an entire database of US military personnel. I wonder if advertisers might be interested in that information. I wonder if anyone else, like our nation's enemies might like to get their grubby paws on that information.
Secondly, Google requires a plug-in download to use the service, which means it will be able to track the I.P. address used to access the service whenever a all is made. How can that not be a security issue?
Third, all of the calls will be routed through Google, which as PC World has been warning for a long time, poses some serious privacy issues (which could easily become security issues when we're talking about soldiers in a war zone):
Google will know everyone who called you and when they called. They'll have records of your voice mail, and because they offer free transcription, it means they'll have not just the voice, but text of your calls as well. They'll have recordings of your phone calls --- and I would expect them to offer transcriptions of them as well, which means they'll have the transcriptions as well as your calls.
Google Voice will be offered for free. Google, though, will certainly be looking for ways to make money from it. One of the most obvious ways is via targeted advertising, particularly because the company recently announced that it's going to figure out new ways to target ads based on your interests. It already does this with Gmail. So don't be surprised to see ad targeted based on who calls you.
Doing that means that Google will be mining data from your calls, possibly including what is being said on the calls themselves. It already does the equivalent of this in Gmail, looking for key words, and then displaying ads based on those words.
My guess is that the troops in many locations will not be allowed to use this service, and will not try. The problem, of course, is that their family here at home may not realize the risk, and may just try to help them take advantage of the free benefit by signing them up for the service, so at the very least, Google is most assuredly going to end up with the most spectacular database of US military addresses outside of the US Government. And Google doesn't exactly have a track record for showing its national patriotism.
This is one of those times our grandparents warned us about - there really might not be such a thing as a "free" lunch.