We all hate telemarketers. It's nothing personal; it's just that their job interrupts our lives and makes our days a tiny bit less happy.

The only thing worse: robocalls. So, when when Google included a feature to destroy telemarketers and short-circuit robocalls (figuratively, of course) on the Pixel 3, many of us were excited--even those who use iPhones.

It seemed obvious then that Apple would probably follow suit quickly, and replicate the feature. But while I don't mean to be unrealistically impatient. it's now been almost three months.

As far as I can tell it hasn't happened. So here's the problem, the feature, and how how to take matters into your own hands.

Call Screen 101

In case you missed this, Google came out with the Pixel 3 in October. Among its features is "Call Screen" -- basically a way to send any incoming call to Google Assistant, where the caller is required to record briefly the reason why they're calling. 

Their answer is quickly transcribed -- all before you have to decide whether to answer.

It's smart, because it not only prevents you from ever having to talk to a scammy telemarketer, but because it undermines the entire telemarketing industry. If they can never get through to make a pitch, they can never make a sale.

Problem eventually solved. Except that, it's not. In fact, the problem is only getting worse. Next year, it's estimated that nearly half of all incoming cell-phone calls will be spam.

And people truly care. Every time I write about telemarketers and robocalls, I get a reaction: whether it's about this kind of feature, or some state lawmakers trying to come up with creative legal ways to shut telemarketers down, or even fun ideas like the "Lenny" chatbot, or the communities of people who basically compete to waste telemarkters' time and make their lives hell.

People just want this to stop.

A very simple solution

So, why doesn't Apple have a similar feature? I don't know why sending callers to a similar Siri-based system, basically mimicking exactly what Google is doing, doesn't seem to be a priority.

Maybe eventually they'll get around to it. In the meantime, it seems you have three options:

  • Try one of the many third party apps out there to cut down on robocalls and scam telemarketers. These were mostly available for Android too, before Google launched its new feature (link provided for convenience, not endorsement; I've never tried any of them).
  • Do what I've done for a while, and only give out a Google Voice number, which is then linked to my cell phone. At least then you can screen calls (although you get a voice recording rather than a text, which is less convenient). However, if I don't recognize a number, I don't answer, and if the caller doesn't leave a voicemail (which is then transcribed), I never call back.
  • Jailbreak your phone, and at least download some of the apps that will let you be alerted to incoming calls by a banner, rather than a full screen. They're easier to ignore that way.

At the very least, it seems that Apple could easily allow you to be alerted to incoming calls by banner rather than fullscreen, without having to jailbreak. 

As  Spencer Dailey of Techmeme points out, the iPhone's status quo UX for answering calls means you either have to decline a call and immediately send it to voicemail (thus letting the telemarketer know that you have an active line), or wait it out until the call gets declined automatically.

We are all in this together

At the end of the day, I doubt most of us care why the scourge of telemarketers eventually stops.

We don't care if it stops because the law changes, or because technology leaps ahead, or because we all get together and engineer some kind of social change. We just want it to stop.

And that means that we're all in this together -- every single one of us, with the possible exception of the telemarketers and scammers themselves.

I'm not saying Google's solution is perfect. Heck, they're still rolling out new features. But these are the companies charging $1,000 for a phone; they're teamed up with data service providers charging hundreds every month to use them. It seems like they're the ones that should be way out in front of this, figuring out how to end the scourge of telemarketers and robocalls and scammers. 

And it also seems like there are some really simple things they could do to get us all a heck of a lot closer to that goal. Maybe in 2019 we'll start to see some of them.
 

Published on: Dec 28, 2018
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