What's the 411 on Google's New Service?

Oct 11, 2007
Nicole A. Ozer

Page Media

ACLU of Northern CA

Over the last week, Americans in places as far as upstate New York and as nearby as downtown San Francisco have noticed ads on billboards and taxi cabs for Google's new service, Google 411.

Google 411allows users to call a 1-800 number to get local business information for no fee. Users can also connect to the requested number without a charge and can have the phone number sent as a text.

The new program has been promoted as a convenient solution to accessing information when you are offline.

But does this new service come at a cost to user privacy? In each Google 411 call you make, Google could record your phone number, the time you call, the content of your requests, and your voice.

Currently Google 411 users do not get ads when using the service. However, Google 411 is only in its experimental stage and Google is a leader in targeted advertising to consumers. How about pop-up ads on your mobile phone after you have asked for numbers of local pizza places? Lots of companies are looking into mobile phone advertising.

Additionally, could Google be using 411 to build up a voice recognition data bank for new products? Possibly.

Over the last year, Google has faced increasing scrutiny over its lack of substantial privacy policies for the variety of services it offers . Its proposed merger with the online advertising giant, DoubleClick, provoked fears that Google could use its vast data base of information to target even more ads to users.

Google recently made a big splash in the media when it endorsed a multinational privacy framework, (APEC). However, numerous privacy groups have raised concerns that APEC provides vague and quite weak privacy protection for the individual.

Google 411 could be a move to promote good will among consumers. But the convenience of Google 411 could also be offset by its potential to compromise consumer privacy.