Google has unveiled a surprisingly simple solution to telemarketing spam calls.
'You'll never have to talk to another telemarketer,' the Google project manager said. (Which means for telemarketers: Bye-bye, business model!)
It also comes just in the nick of time. By 2019, it's estimated that nearly half of all incoming cell-phone calls will be spam. And while the FCC has started coming down hard on some of the worst offenders, it hasn't made much of a dent.
Here's how Google's solution works--introduced at its hardware event in New York City on Tuesday. It's called simply "Call Screen," and it's built into Android on the Pixel 3.
When you get a call from a number you don't recognize on an Android device, click "Call Screen" on your device.
Google Assistant answers the call, with a greeting like, "Hi, the person you're calling is using a screening service from Google, and will get a copy of this conversation. Go ahead and say your name, and why you are calling."
The caller will either hang up--in which case it's probably not important--or provide an answer, which will then be transcribed and displayed on your screen.
Then it's up to you to decide whether to answer.
So if the message you receive reads something like, "Bill, this is your wife, I lost my phone, pick up," you'd answer (I hope). But if it's something like, "This is the IRS calling to say we will arrest you for not paying taxes," you can just ignore it, since it's absolutely a scam.
"Just tap the 'Call Screen' button and your phone will answer for you and ask who's calling and why," Google product manager Liza Ma said in announcing the new feature, followed by the eight most important words of her presentation: "You'll never have to talk to another telemarketer."
You can also mark spammy incoming calls as "Spam." That way, if you ever get a call from that number again, it will come with a big red interface reminding you that you've previously pegged the number as suspicious.
That's it. Call Screen won't remove your phone number from telemarketers' lists. But it could ultimately make the entire telemarketing industry unprofitable. If telemarketers can never reach anyone to pitch, they can never close a sale.
And, if it works as expected, expect the feature to go forth and multiply (meaning, coming soon to an iOS near you). And for telemarketers: Bye-bye, business model.
This is pretty cool, and simple. It's also very close to what your parents probably used to do back in the 1980s, when people had mechanical telephone answering machines, and they'd just let incoming calls go to the machine before they decided whether to pick up.
And it's not far from the screening options that Google has been offering with Google Voice for nearly a decade--only you don't get a transcription in real time.
For the Google Voice solution, just connect Voice to your cell phone, let a list of trusted numbers dial through to you directly, but prompt everyone else to state their name after the tone, and you'll get the recording without answering.
You can even direct repeat offenders straight to voice mail without disturbing you--or else, my personal favorite, upload something like this recording that says your number is not in service, and get off their lists for good.
I've often wondered why most people don't do this same thing--but the Google announcement today explains why. We are all ridiculously busy, so we need things like this to be simple, simple, simple.
It takes time to do all that setup I described on Google Voice. It takes no time at all to hit "Call Screen" when you have an incoming call you don't recognize.
And that's what makes this so simply brilliant. Or brilliantly simple. Whichever, you decide.
By Bill Murphy Jr. Contributing editor, Inc.com