Google Voice: ‘Just Calling to See if You’re Gay’

I’m a big fan of Google Voice and am generally very pleased with the free service, but its speech to text function is really starting to bother me. When callers leave a voicemail on my Google Voice number, their messages are automatically transcribed and sent to my Gmail account and mobile phones. The other day I got an unusual transcribed message from my dad.

It read:

“Hey there, How you doing. I’m just calling to see if you’re gay. Take care.”

For a split second I thought my dad may be losing his mind, or forgotten that I got married to my wife almost five years ago. And come on Dad…if you did have any such personal questions, you could at least ask me in person…

A second later I remembered that this wasn’t a normal text, but a Google Voice transcription. I launched GV Connect on my iPhone 4 and listened to the message, which is embedded below.

My dad wasn’t questioning my sexual orientation. He was simply asking if I got my keys to our new house yet. Google transcribed ‘you got your key’ to ‘you’re gay.’

I’m not sure why Google Voice speech to text is so bad while other systems, such as Nuance’s mobile apps are so good. Both systems don’t require training.

This voicemail/text mixup was completely harmless since it was between my dad and I, but this could’ve been an embarrassing situation if a message for one of his clients (Dad’s a contractor) were transcribed like this. We live in San Francisco, where many of our neighbors, co-workers and friends are openly gay. It’s nothing unusual, but it’s impolite to ask about someone’s sexual orientation so casually.

My father stopped using Google Voice after getting frustrated with Google’s transcriptions and I’m sure he’s not alone. A message left for him a while back read:

“I hope you having a wonderful weekend. Yeah, I’ll talk to you later dick suck a cellphone number, 707####### Thank you. Bye bye.”

As I’ve mentioned before, Google really needs to blacklist some words and phrases, hiding them unless they’re darn sure the caller actually said them. Maybe Google can’t do this with due to expense or using its own technology. They should license the technology from someone like Nuance and pass the cost onto heavy Google Voice users as a premium option.

Whatever the solution is, Google needs to do something here before it keeps embarrassing itself and its users.