Truecaller will allow users to set a reason for calling, which will be displayed on the phone of the person they call, the company announced on Wednesday. Users will be able to choose from three different call reasons which they can customise. The options — which the company calls “reason picker” — will appear before a user places the call; it is not mandatory for them to choose a reason. However, there are certain caveats with this feature — most notably, that the company has no way to keep a check on abusive messages being sent as call reasons (more on that below). The feature is free to use, but will currently be available only to Android users. On iOS, it will be rolled out by early next year, the company said.

It is worth noting that in early September, Google had launched an exact same feature for Android phones, where businesses could display their name, logo, and reason for calling while placing a call to a customer. At the time, MediaNama had pointed out that with this feature, Google had essentially pitted itself against Truecaller, and in that context, Truecaller’s new feature looks like an obvious business decision. Also, it is worth mentioning that Google’s feature is available only to verified businesses, whereas, Truecaller’s call reason feature can be used by all of its users.

If it works as advertised, the feature may help to filter spam calls even more, which are a huge problem in India. On an average, an Indian received 25.6 pesky calls a month in 2019, a 15% increase from 2018, as per a report by Truecaller, released in December 2019. According to that report, India was the fifth most spam called country in the world. Telecom service providers, trying to sell data plans among other things, were the biggest spammers in 2019, with 67% of the spam calls made by them, the report had said.

No way to stop from setting abusive texts as call reason

There are potential caveats to the ‘Call Reason’ feature on Truecaller. For starters, the company has no way to ensure that users don’t end up sending abusive messages as call reasons. When asked about how it would stop users from sending abusive call reasons, Truecaller argued it had no control over it because it didn’t look into the reason being sent, and all it knows is that a particular user has sent some text as call reason to another user. It however, did say that it is not possible to send images as call reason, and the text limit is restricted to 80 characters. Both the caller, and the person receiving the call should be Truecaller users to be able to use the feature.

When MediaNama asked about what stopped Truecaller from peeping into these texts and whether they were encrypted, the company informed that the call reasons aren’t encrypted. When we asked for how for how long the call reasons will be stored after a call, and where they will be stored, Truecaller said that they are not stored. “They are visible on the Call Alert (just before the call), on live caller ID (pop up or full screen style), and then can be seen in a missed call. That’s it. Nothing is stored or visible later,” the company said.

When asked what would happen if a spam puts a call reason which seems legitimate, the company said that users can block those numbers. This essentially means that there is no way the company can stop spam callers from entering a call reason which seems genuine.

Truecaller can also translate SMS text

Apart from setting a call reason, the company will also allow users to schedule text messages from the Truecaller app, and will translate the text of an SMS if the app detects any “foreign language” in the body of the SMS.

The translation feature is powered by Google’s ML (machine learning) kit and all messages are processed locally on the phone, Truecaller said, before adding that the contents of the messages never leave the phone. Language packs are downloaded to a device before the translation can occur. Users can also download additional languages to use them offline. This feature will only be available for Android.

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