November 17, 2006

New Google Service Will Manipulate Caller-ID

Greetings. Google has made available a new "Click-to-Call" service that will automatically connect users to business phone listings found via Google search results.

In order for this feature to function, the user must provide their telephone number so that Google can bridge the free call between the business and the user (including long distance calls).

An obvious issue with such a service is that there is no reasonable way to validate the user phone number that is provided. Google says that they have mechanisms in place to try avoid repeated prank calls, but the potential for abuse is obvious.

Of even greater concern is that Google says that it will manipulate the caller-ID on the calls made to the user-provided number, to match that of the business being called. This is extremely problematic, since it could be used to try to convince a prank target that they were being called directly by the business in question, and so cause that target to direct their anger at the innocent business. In the case of targets who are on do-not-call lists, it is possible to imagine legal action being taken by callers upset that the business in question called them "illegally," though in fact the call had been made by the Google system.

Google's explanation for this caller-ID manipulation is that it would be handy to have the called business number in your caller-ID for future calls. That may be true, but the abuse potential is way too high. Caller-ID should never be falsified.

I've written many times about how caller-ID can be manipulated to display false or misleading information, why this should be prevented, and how the telcos have shown little interest in fixing caller-ID or informing their customers about the problem (caller-ID is a cash cow for the telcos whether it is accurate or not).

Up to now, the typical available avenue for manipulating caller-ID has been pay services that tended to limit the potential for largescale abuse since users are charged for access. Google, by providing a free service that will place calls and manipulate caller-ID, vastly increases the scope of the problem. Scale matters.

Google has not vetted this caller-ID feature sufficiently, and I urge its immediate reconsideration.


Blog Update (November 19, 2006): Proposed Solution For Google's "Click-to-Call" Caller-ID Problem

Posted by Lauren at November 17, 2006 11:45 PM | Permalink
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