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  • Matt Balogh

The Case for Greater Freedom of Voice Call Recording with Android in Australia

Updated: Mar 13, 2021

There is no facility on Android phones in Australia to record a normal voice call. One explanation sometimes cited is that call recording is not legal in Australia – but this is simply incorrect. Recording of private calls in Australia largely comes under state legislation, where Victoria, Queensland and the Northern Territory permit voice recording in most circumstances, while in the other states voice recording requires the knowledge and consent of both parties in the call. There are compelling reasons why some calls can or should be recorded.

Firstly, there are many calls wherein people enter a verbal contract over the phone. These calls are recorded by the contractor – of which Telstra phone services are a prime example. The call recording is the record of the contract – but only the contractor has that record. You can potentially ask for a copy of that recording, but such requests typically get buried or ignored. However the fact is that you not only are entitled to a copy of the agreement that has been formed verbally – you should have a copy of it. These calls should be recorded by both parties.

Secondly, most calls to large business or organisations are recorded for ‘quality and training purposes’. A selection of such calls may be listened to as part of a quality control regime, but all calls are stored – effectively as records of the conversation. There is a strong argument that if a business or organisation says that the call will be recorded, and you do not object, then you too should be able to record the call – after all, both parties have agreed to the call being recorded.

Thirdly, call recording is reasonable as a memory aid. For instance, if two parties are in dispute about what was said in a phone call, and this dispute is heard in a court, if one party can show that they took notes at the time of the call and the other party has not, the magistrate, judge or jury will prefer the testimony of the party that took the notes. The fuzzy line between the encouragement to take notes, while not permitting call recording is debatable.

The argument that attempts to justify blocking call recording because it may be illegal also fails in another respect – it is not up to big business to disable things that may or may not be legal. For instance, it is not legal to drive a car over 110 kms per hour in NSW, but no cars have speed blockers to stop that.

If there are circumstances when call recording is permissible and instances when it is entirely appropriate, why can’t one record calls on an Android mobile phone? One clue is in the exception – received calls can be recorded if one uses Google Voice. In fact, all Google Voice calls are recorded and transcribed. Users of Gmail’s emails are read by Google and used to profile users for advertising communications. Google also scans attachments to emails for this same purpose. People who backup their Android phone photos or use Google Photos may be surprised to learn that Google also scan users' photos and store such information in text format. For instance, if someone takes a photo of, say, a donkey, and that is stored in Google photos with the innocuous filename of 12345.jpg, searching for the word donkey in Google photos will bring up the photo of the donkey. Google’s approach to Google Voice is, not surprisingly, the same. Google also wishes to push as many as possible calls to this channel, so that they not only have un-fettered access to everyone’s written communications, but also their voice communications.

Google has gone to extreme lengths to stop third-party call recording apps from being able to work by investing in technology to stop any such apps from working. To be fair, it is potentially possible to record calls by using a combination of accessories via the 3.5 mm audio socket of a phone – but it is difficult, poor in quality and very inconvenient.

Google’s attempt to monopolise call recording on Android Phones should be legally challenged because it is definitively wrong.

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