February 15, 2017      

Amazon Echo and Google Home have made their way into millions of homes. And one feature many consumers have been calling for is the ability to make phones calls through the cloud-connected speakers.

I don’t really see the need for this – we’re all glued to our cellphones and prefer texting – but it looks like that wish might come true. According to The Wall Street Journal, both companies are looking to add voice calls to their respective smart home speakers.

The report says this functionality could be rolled out in 2017, but both Amazon and Google have expressed concerns about privacy, emergency services, and regulatory hurdles.

One of the main issues both companies need to work out, of course, is what happens to the call when you leave the room where the speaker is located? Will your voice still be picked up? Will the call be forwarded to your actual landline (if you have one), cell phone, or a secondary speaker in a different room?

Must-Read: Amazon Echo a Virtual Assistant or Government Spy?

According to the report, Amazon is still contemplating whether it should sync Echo to your existing phone number or give Echo its own number. Again, count me out; seems like just another way for telemarketers to spam us.

There’s also the fact that all these calls will be made over speakerphone, which certainly isn’t desirable during all phone calls and has probably gotten us all in trouble at some point for saying something inappropriate not knowing you’re on speakerphone.

The report says Amazon Echo and Google Home would “most likely” use voice over internet protocol (VoIP), which is the technology apps like Skype use. In fact, Amazon launched its own Skype competitor called “Chime” on Tuesday. Google, however, has more experience in the market, having operated its Google Voice service since 2009.

But privacy is the biggest concern here, so it’ll be a while before either speaker rolls out voice calls. According to the report, Amazon wouldn’t record the conversations, but it would collect the length of conversations and what numbers are dialed.

Privacy issues surrounding these smart speakers came to a head in December 2016 when authorities in Bentonville, Arkansas issued a warrant to Amazon to deliver any audio and records from an Echo that belongs to James Andrew Bates, who is going to trial for first-degree murder of Victor Collins. Amazon reportedly declined to give authorities any information from Bates’ Echo that was logged on Amazon servers, but it did hand over details about Bates’ account and recent purchases.