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Whitepages adds Spam Score to its Android caller ID app, leaves iOS badly outclassed

By Michael Carney , written on October 17, 2014

From The News Desk

With many consumers abandoning landlines in favor of mobile phones, telemarketers, robocallers and other forms of more nefarious spam calls are no longer confined to the home. Today, these calls are finding us wherever and whenever, often even spilling over into text messages, and as a result are more intrusive than ever.

Android users just got a sexy new weapon in the fight against call spam with the latest update to the Whitepages Caller ID app released today. Consumers will now see a spam score for every inbound call from an unknown number, as well as the number of reports and comments from the Whitepages Caller ID community related to any call suspected to be spam.

“As more and more consumers move to ‘mobile only’ phone ownership, the nuisance of unsolicited calls and the danger of being targeted by fraudulent calls becomes more prevalent,” says Whitepages Director of Mobile Products Lori Roth.

It’s no longer even enough to simply block an unwanted number or add known spam numbers to your address book and decline their calls. With spammers routinely changing numbers, this is a rather short-sighted strategy. But because Whitepages Caller ID analyzes billions of calls, texts, and number lookups per month from its 50 million registered users, the company is able to offer real-time intelligence around inbound calls. Users can also help build the reputation database by adding their own unique comments.

“Accuracy is our number one priority at all times, and we use a variety of means to ensure that we’re accurately identifying spam calls,” Roth says.

Phone spam is an issue that affects 68 percent of mobile phone users, according to Pew Internet Research, with more than 1.5 billion spam calls and texts sent every month. And Whitepages highlights several prominent recent campaigns, including the “One Ring Scam,” the “Grandparents Scam,” and the “IRS Phone Scam,” among other banking and insurance scams. The IRS scam alone has more than 6,000 known associated phone numbers, making avoiding it without a service like Whitepages Caller ID all but impossible.

Unfortunately for iPhone users, Whitepages Caller ID is only available on Android. Limitations in the iOS platform prevent third-party apps from processing inbound calls and texts – or in Apple speak, from duplicating the functionality of native apps like the Phone and Messages apps. Outbound calls and texts are possible, as demonstrated by the popular Humin address book and dialer app. But iPhone users are limited to Apple’s basic caller-ID functionality, which is tied only to the user’s address book, and to a standard call blocking feature. This is one area where Android truly does have a major advantage in terms of user experience.

Not all calls are spam, of course, and the newest version of Whitepages Caller ID adds functionality for these calls as well. For known numbers, the app includes social info in the Caller ID dialogue, such as photo, location, work info, and current status.

The Whitepages Caller ID app is entirely free to use and the company is focused on growing adoption and capturing valuable call data, rather than monetizing its consumer users. That said, this data is extremely valuable and helps support the company’s paid enterprise product, Whitepages Pro, through which it helps businesses like call centers and financial services firms quickly identify inbound callers, reduce instances of fraud, and provide better customer service.

There’s a tradeoff for this free spam prevention, however. As is often the case, when consumers are not paying for a product, they are the product. Whitepages may not be tracking and recording its users’ communications, it’s certainly tying their identities to their contact information and providing that data to paying enterprise customers. These enterprises are typically more interested in details of malicious callers like potential fraudsters, but that doesn’t mean that individual consumers information is not being bundled and sold at the same time. After all, the company proudly proclaims, “The Whitepages platform contains data for more than 200 million adult US residents and 30 million businesses (90% of all businesses), including more than 300 million phone numbers total.” Then again, your phone number is hardly the most sensitive piece of personal identification information.

Consumers don’t seem overly concerned with this fact however, as Whitepages Caller ID has been installed over 50 million times and currently holds a 4.4 star rating with more than 33,000 ratings on the Google Play store.

“Caller ID is a very discoverable term, and we leverage all of our Whitepages properties to help build awareness and drive downloads,” Roth says. “We recently surpassed 18 billion calls and texts by our users since 2012. We’ve also ranked in the Top 25 within the highly competitive communications category, and that that includes popular messaging platforms, since launching a little over two years ago.”

Privacy concerns aside, Whitepages seems to offer a genuinely useful service at the always popular price of free. In that regard, the biggest disappointment might be that it’s only available to about half of all US smartphone users, and provides only limited value to users elsewhere in the world.