Google’s Taking on Robocallers With a New Kind of Caller ID

Google’s Taking on Robocallers With a New Kind of Caller ID
Photo: Sean Gallup, Getty Images

The rise of text-based messaging has caused the public to treat every voice call as potential spam, and the robocall industry has responded by increasing its attempts to get us on the line. It’s an untenable arms race that arguably makes our devices less useful. On Tuesday, Google announced a new program that seeks to rectify the situation by offering a verification service for companies that you might actually want to hear from.

Verified Calls is a pretty simple program that’ll require broad corporate buy-in to be successful. Any legitimate party that’s approved for the program will be able to submit the phone number of the customer they are contacting along with a reason for the call. Google will then use the Google Phone App on Android devices to display the name of the company that’s calling along with a verified check, brand logo, and the reason for the call, such as “potential fraud on Westpac account.”

Example of incoming Verified Call on Android phone. (Graphic: Google) Example of incoming Verified Call on Android phone. (Graphic: Google)

It’s kind of like Twitter’s blue checkmarks in that a company must apply with Google to be part of the program. Any company that wants to join Verified Calls will need to submit an application to become a partner or work with one of the existing partners to sign up. In a statement, Google said that it’s already been testing the program “for a few months and the early results indicate that it improves the likelihood of someone answering a call.”

But what’s in it for Google? Traditionally, you’d be right to assume that Google intends to use this as yet another source of data collection, but the company said that it won’t store call information, associate it with a Google ID, or share it with partners. The information transmitted from a partner to Google to a device will also be encrypted. While that could change in the future, Google seems to be most focused on quality-of-life improvements for Android users.

Verified Calls is just one of a few features that Google has introduced for Android to help make unsolicited calls more manageable. It follows the Verified SMS text-messaging system as well as the flashier ability to have Google Assistant screen calls and send the user a transcript.

An AI personal assistant may sound ideal, but users may not be aware of the feature, and it involves more than just a quick glance at a screen. Verified Calls is streamlining the process and will be available on select Android Pie and higher devices this week with more to come soon. The initial countries included in the pilot launch are the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Spain, and India.

If you’re running an Android device that’s included in the Verified Calls rollout, the feature should be enabled by default. So all you have to do is wait and see if the spam calls are suddenly explaining themselves a little better before you answer.