If webmail, WhatsApp and IM are killing the SMS text message, someone might want to tell Google.
Far from losing interest in a dying communication medium, it’s as if Google is a new convert to the cause.
Last week, rather unexpectedly, it announced new security tweaks designed to make old-fashioned SMS communication more appealing to both companies and consumers alike.
The first of these is Verified SMS for Messages, which as its name suggests works with the company’s Android messaging app.
Available in the US, the UK, Canada, Mexico, India, Brazil, France, the Philippines, and Spain, this allows users to verify that text messages sent by companies are genuine and not fakes or scams.
From Google’s brief description, every text sent to the Messages app by a participating company embeds a hash-based message authentication code (HMAC) which is compared with an equivalent hash sent to Google.
This is unique to each person’s device rather than the company itself, which should make it impossible to spoof.
If all is as it should be, users see the company’s name and logo plus a verification badge.
In theory it could also help verify SMS 2FA codes, although Google’s official position is that users should be looking to migrate to more secure forms of authentication.
A few – some minor and one or two that might prove more difficult to overcome.
As well as being specific to the Messages app, companies must also be part of the Verified SMS system for it to work. So far, that only runs to 1-800-Flowers, Banco Bradesco, Kayak, Payback, and SoFi.
Presumably, this list will expand in time because why wouldn’t companies sending SMS messages to customers not want them to be verified?
The question surrounding this is whether Android users will see any value in the verification of text messages that many of them might not be that keen to receive at all.
More generally, in some countries, bogus SMS spam has never been that big a problem. Even when it has been, Verified SMS will only authenticate known good senders rather than stopping unknown bad ones.
This might explain why Google has added a second feature to Messages, Spam protection for Messages. Assuming you’ve received last week’s Messages app update, this can be found by tapping on Settings > Advanced > Spam Protection (the default is ‘on’).
With this feature in use, any message arriving or leaving from a number not in the user’s contacts list is temporarily stored and checked against the numbers of any known spammers:
This data is not linked to you or to identifiers like your name or phone number, which means Google doesn’t know who you’re messaging. Your message content is not seen or stored by Google as part of this feature.
If it’s suspect, it blocks the message. It’s not crystal clear whether this is done automatically or if the user is asked before it is blocked. It’s also possible to manually report spam.
It doesn’t sound that far away from a similar feature in Microsoft’s SMS Organizer app, announced in August 2019.
Google is also pushing something called Rich Communication Services (RCS) as a chat-centric replacement for old-fashioned SMS rustled up in conjunction with large mobile carriers.
While Verified SMS doesn’t appear to have any direct bearing on that, it does give the impression that the company wants to plant itself in revenue- and data-generating mobile channels.