Google Beefs Up Phone App’s Spam-Fighting Skills

Google on Tuesday released an updated version of its Phone app for Android with a new spam protection feature that warns users when an incoming call is likely to be spam. It also lets them block numbers and report spam.

The app is available on Google Play.

The spam warning feature works on Nexus and AndroidOne devices on the T-Mobile USA, Project Fi and Orange France networks.

“For me, mobile spam calls are a nightmare,” remarked Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“I get calls throughout the day now, and it’s incredibly annoying,” he told LinuxInsider.

Mobile call spam is a growing problem, said Michael Jude, a program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“Most mobile numbers aren’t listed anywhere, and so spamming has been [difficult] — but automation is rapidly eroding the protection of anonymity,” he told LinuxInsider. “It’s possible for call systems to quickly scan down a block of numbers, identify the ones that get answered, and compile lists of active numbers.”

Spam Suspects ID’d

The Google Phone app already offered Caller ID and call blocking, and Caller ID displayed known businesses, but the older call blocking feature “was just blocking an individual contact,” Google said in comments provided to LinuxInsider by spokesperson Crystal Dahlen. “This update includes the ability to report spam and show alerts for suspected spam callers.”

Previously the Caller ID showed known businesses through Google My Businesses, and “nothing about this feature is changing,” the company noted.

Users already could place calls from Google Maps, but with the update, “a user doesn’t need to open another app,” Google said. “Just type ‘locksmith’ in the Phone app and the three nearest results will appear.”

Early Reactions

There already are a number of complaints on the Phone app’s Google Play page.

“Visual Voicemail is broken with latest update. Nothing is currently displayed in the tab even though the settings look fine. Rolling back to the previous version solves that issue,” wrote Salim Ahmed.

“I can’t be notified when I receive a text message when I’m on a call,” posted Axel.

Overall, the app is “pretty good,” wrote Andy Baughman, who uses a Nexus 6P. However, “it takes a long time to open, no customization available, and the favorites page is very ugly for an official Google app. “

The app is “straight forward, effective,” wrote Chris Matta. “The only thing that could use a change at this point is that I would like to be able to set a default feature on launch.”

The comments have not gone unnoticed.

Google is “looking at the feedback on an ongoing basis,” noted spokesperson Dahlen.

More Robust Approach

The new spam-blocking feature goes further than some other solutions.

Caller ID can be misleading, and call blocking “isn’t very effective, given [spam callers] can use a variety of trunk lines, each of which has to be blocked to work,” noted Enderle. The new app “would seem to be far more proactive and work more like email spam filters.”

There are services users can subscribe to, such as YouMail, that will intercept calls automatically, Enderle said, noting that YouMail “provides this as a free service to get you interested in their other calling features.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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