Google offers to leave robocallers hanging on the telephone

♫ If you don't answer, I'll just ring it off the wall ♫

Fresh from fighting content filters in the EU, Google is working on the ultimate content filter– which seals the user off in a spam-free bubble.

It's a nuisance caller detection feature built into Android, and it could have unintended consequences. The feature, spotted in recent commits to the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), offers to "screen unwanted calls with real-time audio transcription and quick responses".

The commits were spotted by sharp-eyed devs at XDA here.

Many phone apps already include a blacklist feature and third-party phone apps, such as Drupe and Truecaller, use caller ID to screen unwanted calls.

This one's different, however. Real-time AI will be deployed in Android AOSP phone dealer to detect whether or not the caller is a robot. If the AI detects that a machine is calling you and you don't want to speak to the machine, the phone app could offer to hang up.

To allay fears, developers suggest the audio file and transcription will remain on the device.

Google already fills in caller information for unknown numbers on its Pixel phones, without them asking. Google said it derives the information from publicly available sources. That puts Google as the de facto directory enquiries service for the world. But the rejection feature raises wider questions.

Here, the platform itself is creating a filter bubble, rather than an optional third-party app like Drupe. The platform is identifying who gets through to the user. Seduced by the convenience, who would ever accept a call from an unknown caller again?

And would the onboard AI be able to detect Google's own robot callers, and if so, would it whitelist them? Google recently demonstrated Duplex, a robot-to-human e-commerce system. Mountain View built hesitation into the robot speech to fool humans into thinking it was not a robot – which prompted calls for legislation. Would the real-time AI in the phone app be fooled too?

With Android enjoying over 80 per cent of the mobile OS market, perhaps the only robocalls that ever got through would be Google's. Which would be nice, for Google.

You can find the code for the in-call features of the Android Dialer here. ®

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