Google Voice can be a life saver for long distance calls on your smartphone, when the Google Voice app fails, you could be left with a hefty bill and no recourse. Sophie makes a good number of calls to France every month. She uses Google Voice to complete the calls at .02 cents per minute, a very reasonable rate. Last month though, her bill was $700 more than expected because a failure somewhere in the process sent the calls over T-Mobile’s network, at a much higher rate.
Google Voice Breakdown
The calls should have been sent through Google Voice’s service. According to Sophie, the proper notification was played each time, but the calls don’t show up on her Google Voice call history. Sophie has been working with T-Mobile and Google Voice, but so far both companies are pointing the finger, and T-Mobile wants their money, though they are giving her time to sort the mess out instead of cutting off her service. Sophie writes to the Consumerist,
I just received my t-mobile bill, which is about $700 higher than usual. I have been using google voice on my cell phone (Tmobile G2) to call the same French numbers I have been calling for months. However, this time, it seems that most of my call were handled by t-mobile instead of google voice. I haven’t changed any setting on my phone, and every time I call, I hear the little message saying that it’s using google voice and I’m being charged 0.02 cents/minute. When I look at my calling history on google voice, most of my calls never occurred but they sure did occur on my t-mobile bill. Google Voice does not having any customer service except for the online forum, I started a thread. I then contacted Tmobile to let them know that there was a problem with my bill and ask them to look into it and put a note in my file that I am in the process of asking GoogleVoice to solvie it but that in the meantime, I will only pay the portion of my bill I usually pay every month. Well for anybody who has the same problem, here’s Tmobile’s first answer: “Upon reviewing the records the calls look like they are coming directly from the device itself. If the third party Google Application is not working correctly the issue will need to be reviewed by them.” Here’s Google Voice’s answer (off-thread of course): “If these calls don’t show up in your Google Voice call records (available online), they were not made through Google Voice. Looking into the bill you’ve attached and comparing against these records, it would appear correct that T-Mobile is billing you for these international calls appropriately. In the future, please make absolutely sure that the Google Voice prompt plays before your international calls to ensure you’re not billed on the carrier end. Please consult this help article: Specifically, take these steps to correctly make an international call through Google Voice: 1. Call your access number from a mobile phone registered on your account. 2. Once you’re in the Google Voice system, press 2 to make a call 3. When dialing an international number, enter 011, the country code, and then the number (for example: 011442012345612345).
Other users are reporting similar issues with Google Voice not properly handling international calls, resulting in bigger cell phone bills. These cases may be a minority, but they highlight a real issue for the popular Google Voice service and the bigger issue of who is at fault when an app failure results in a big cell phone bill.
Tip of the Iceberg
Up until now, we haven’t seen many issues where an app has been the culprit, but with more advanced apps handling telephony and texting services, as well as using tiered data plans, it’s bound to become more common. Because the carrier and the app maker have no relation, it may be difficult for overcharged consumers to get closure. I have to wonder if Sophie would have had better luck with this error if she was using Sprint, which has tightly integrated Google Voice with their smartphones. As more carriers include apps in branded app stores and allow for carrier billing from App stores these boundaries and liabilities to solve problems will continue to shift and need definitions. Hopefully the industry will gather together to form some means of moderating disputes which put the customer in between two companies when it comes to apps and third-party services. We have reached out to T-Mobile and Google for comment, but did not receive a response at the time this post went live.