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Google needs to fix its SMS verification in India

Google and Yahoo are making a mobile number mandatory, for new signups for their email addresses, according to a PTI story, in a bid to address spam. This appears to be factually incorrect, although it has been reported widely. I was able to register a new gmail account without sharing a mobile number, although the sign-up page didn’t mention that giving the mobile number was optional. A Google India spokesperson also told PTI that giving a mobile number was optional, but apparently they weren’t able to create accounts without giving a mobile number. Strange.

A few points on making mobile numbers mandatory, even though this doesn’t appear to be the case with Google:

– It will help address spam: The easier it is to set up an email account, the more spam that gets sent, and verification of numbers, and limiting the number of email addresses per number will help. This is a big positive.

– What about anonymity? Google recently began allowing pseudonymous accounts again, but this move to link email addresses to mobile numbers helps the company store identity information, even if it is not surfaced. This might address concerns of security agencies and governments that seek information from Google and Yahoo. Anonymity has its advantages, and there remains a market for anonymous email service providers, but few can match the ease and pervasiveness of Gmail.

– Google’s verification in India doesn’t work for those customers on the Do-Not-Disturb registry in India: I’ve been trying to claim my personal G+ vanity-url for months now (tried again for this post), but since Google isn’t sending messages to DND customers, even if solicited, verification won’t be possible. To that end, if Google was to make mobile number verification mandatory, creating a new Gmail account would become impossible for DND customers.

So two things:

1. We hope mobile numbers aren’t made mandatory for email addresses, whether by Google’s own choice or by a government mandate.

2. We wish Google fixes its verification system to a simpler format: perhaps something which involves asking a user to send an SMS to a Google number for verification, or give a missed call from the registered number to verify it. There are other businesses which use these methods for verification.

Disclosure: Google is a #NAMA event sponsor

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