Don’t Use Google Voice to Plan Conspiracy


When Google Voice first debuted, I was impressed with its smart voice transcription. Naturally, I decided to see if it was also multilingual. So I improvised a short monologue in Mandarin.

Listen here.

Here’s the original in Chinese:

喂,我喜欢吃红烧肉。对。我很喜欢吃红烧肉。然后,而且,我很崇拜毛主席因为我觉得毛主席是神。 因为他叫全部人都去打麻雀,去做打麻雀运动。然后。。。就是全部人在城市里拿出来他们的锅和碗到房顶上敲 锣打。把麻雀吓怀掉。对。OK, OK OK OK. OK OK OK OK OK. 再见。

Here’s the English translation:

Hey, I like to eat red braised pork. That’s right. I really like to eat red braised pork. Then, also, I really worship Chairman Mao because I think Chairman Mao is god. Because he told everyone to kill sparrows, to participate in the Great Sparrow Campaign. Also…it’s just everyone in the cities taking out their pots and pans and going up the rooftops to beat them like drums and gongs. This terrified the sparrows. Yeah. OK, OK OK OK. OK OK OK OK OK. Bye.

And here’s Google Voice’s translation:

Hey, Wish you and food homes, although today well and she finds at home so. Ohh, Ohh well. I didn’t home by the mall to, she, you were able to them all the pieces and well whole. Anyway, I don’t. Trembling, though. She’s. Yeah, I’m not sure what exactly what I’m not sure you don’t wanna hold well, which is a tremendous and 3 Knox way I’ll come the Oracle oneduals she no time. Chill 1,000 i. Trisha shop. I did Day, okay okay okay okay. Polio okay okay okay okay okay. All all. Thank you.

Close enough. The only thing that’s weird is after interpreting an entire string of “OK”s correctly, Google Voice sticks in a “polio.” Okaayy.

Another creepy thing is the fact that even though I supposedly “deleted forever” this voicemail from my Google Voice account, I can still retrieve the original audio via the link above. I don’t even need to be logged into my account (which is how you can access it). Oh, the implications! I ll keep that in mind next time I have an affair, plan a price fixing conspiracy, or flood the streets of Baltimore with heroine. Yup. Definitely won’t use Google Voice.

This is Google Voice’s privacy policy:

You may organize or delete your call history, voicemail greeting(s), voicemail messages (both audio and/or transcriptions), Short Message Service (SMS) messages, and recorded conversations through your Google Voice account or terminate your account through the Google Account section of Google Voice settings. Such deletions or terminations will take immediate effect in your account view. Residual copies of deleted data and accounts may take up to 90 days to be deleted from our active servers and may remain in our offline backup systems. Call history for billable calls will remain visible on your account and be retained in Google systems for accounting purposes. Call history for billable calls will be retained in Google systems for accounting purposes.

I recorded this voicemail on November 2, 2009. So I guess the bold part above means, “You can delete it, but that won’t do shit.” Thanks Google. And what about the legality of recording conversations? (I won’t go into my phone’s normal voice mailbox because I’ve just become confused about it.) Google says

Google Voice provides a function that allows you to record individual telephone conversations. The laws regarding the notice and notification requirements of such recorded conversations vary by state to state. You are responsible for applying the local laws in the relevant jurisdiction when using this feature.

As a law-abiding citizen (most of the time) I looked it up. US federal law allows recording of phone calls and other electronic communications with the consent of at least one party to the call. But my home state of Massachusetts requires all parties to give consent before a call is recorded. So who constitutes a “party”? What is consent? And what part does Google have in this?