Inside Steadily
October 18, 2021

Request For Startup: a Phone Screening Service That Works

Steadily's blog cover page for information around landlord insurance.

On the West Wing, Jed Bartlet didn’t carry a cell phone — his aide did. The aide screened each incoming call to make sure it was worth the President’s time before handing over the phone. The error rate was zero.

As a result, Jed never learned that his warranty was about to expire. I want to be Jed. Or rather, I want Jed's aide — but as an app or service that us mortals can afford.

My spam number

About three years ago I took preemptive action to fight call pollution: I signed up for Google Voice to get a second number aka my “spam number”. This number goes directly to voicemail and says:

“Voicemail for this number is disabled.  Please send me an SMS or email message, instead, to get in touch with me.”  

Any SMS sent to the spam number lands in my inbox as an email.

I give the spam number to anyone who is not a human friend: websites, utilities, the barbershop, etc. They can still reach me, but not by voice.

The problem

On rare occasions, this spam number blocks important calls from getting through to me — the vendor who’s waiting outside wondering why I’m not picking up. Furthermore, the spam number hasn’t solved the call pollution problem on my primary number, just reduced it. I get about 3-5 calls a day to my primary number that I don't recognize. I don't answer 99% of those unless the same number calls me in rapid succession.

What I want to be true

  • I can give my mobile phone number to anyone who asks for it
  • Anybody I trust e.g. in my address book, can get through to me normally
  • Anybody I don't trust has to run a gauntlet
  • The gauntlet weeds out the calls I don't want with 98% accuracy
  • The gauntlet is fast at identifying legitimate callers so I’m not embarrassed by the added friction
  • I’m not notified of these weeded calls, but they're logged somewhere so I have that backup

Request for startup
I’ve tried many services over the years: Google Voice, RoboKiller, Truecaller, etc. Within the narrow scope of what they do they're fine, but they don't solve my problem.

Remember, I want to be Jed. Or rather, I want Jed’s aide. I’m just not important enough to have one.

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