VANCOUVER—A spokesperson for Google has confirmed the service they’ve launched in Vancouver and Toronto to connect potential customers to trusted service providers funnels customers through ostensibly local phone numbers that are actually owned by Google for the purpose of call monitoring.
Google Local Services is an addition to its search platform that connects potential customers to local service providers who pay for the advertising. It launched in Toronto and Vancouver last December for locksmiths and heating, cooling and ventilation professionals.
When someone in Toronto searches for a locksmith, for example, they’ll see some service providers with green check marks next to the company name, meaning they’ve been vetted by Google.
The number next to the listing has a local area code, but that’s not the business’ real contact info. Instead, it’s a dummy Google number that will route you to the business — after informing you that it will be recording anything you say.
Call monitoring is commonly used by businesses for quality control and is allowed according to B.C.’s privacy commission if the person being recorded is informed beforehand. But businesses are only allowed to collect a “reasonable” amount of personal information, and Google’s practices are complicated by the fact that the tech giant is recording two sides of the conversation — both the customer and the small business.
Google says the service helps customers feel more confident about the local professionals they use, especially because the tech giant offers a money-back guarantee for up to $2,000 per customer.
Vancouver small-business owner Kelly Doll noticed increased business after using the service for just a week.
However, when the service launched in Canada, Doll was surprised to learn that the tech company was recording the calls between himself and the customers who had found him through Google Local Services.
When a customer calls one of the checkmarked numbers, an automated voice informs them the call will be recorded by Google before they’re connected. But on the other end, the service provider hears an automated message simply stating that a call is coming from Google.
Google spokesperson Sarah Pattillo confirmed the phone numbers were provided by Google; they do not belong to the businesses associated with them on the platform. Pattillo said the call monitoring allows the company to guard against spam and verify money-back requests.
“Local Services aims to connect consumers directly with verified service professionals and help foster a positive business relationship,” wrote Pattillo in an email explaining why Google records the calls. “Call monitoring to ensure quality customer service is extremely common for businesses across Canada.”
Michelle Mitchell, senior communications manager at the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for B.C., said in an email that the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) requires companies to inform parties before they collect personal information from them. That includes information customers give during a phone call but may not include business representatives like Doll, whose side of the conversation could be considered “work-product information.”
“Having said that, Section 11 of PIPA limits the information collected by an organization to purposes a reasonable person would consider appropriate in the circumstances,” Mitchell wrote. “Depending on the circumstances, it may not be reasonable … to record the entire call.”
Alex McKeen is a Vancouver-based reporter covering wealth and work. Follow her on Twitter: @alex_mckeen