2020. 02. 18.

Closely Watched Messages – Google’s verified SMS is out

When you receive an SMS from a company, it is often only the message content revealing the sender’s identity. As most companies don’t ask for a dedicated phone number (Sender ID) from their SMS service provider, it can happen that the very same number is used by other companies at the same time too. This is not an ideal situation.

Even if the company does have a dedicated number, they still cannot be sure, whether the recipient has saved it to their contact list. In the best scenario, the recipient can figure out the identity of the sender after reading the message.

It’s a more gravy situation, if the sender pretends to be someone else. An average user, like a digitally not-so-well trained bank customer, cannot control such a thing. If the recipient shares confidential information with the malevolent sender, they can quickly become a victim of phishing.

A message warranted by Google

It takes only one bad experience, and the same user will soon look at any messages coming from a non-dedicated number with strong suspicion. This, of course, will reduce trust in brands and companies. Still, most domestic – and partly international – companies are satisfied with common-use identifiers. Their only goal is to get the message delivered and don’t really care about user experience.

Google has just launched its Verified SMS (VSIM) service a month ago to prevent dangerous situations like that and to give companies the opportunity of using text messages as branded channels in their customer communication. The very essence of a verified SMS is that the sender is identified by a number of distinguishing marks. The sender greets you right at the top of their message with a brand name, logo, and a brief introduction of the company or brand. Also a link can be included in the SMS text providing a nice preview of the web content it directs to. Just like this:

 

Of course, a sophisticated phishing scammer could put together a deceptive, similar but fake design, but the Verified SMS gives a real guarantee that the senders are exactly who they are saying.

The key to security is in the process: if you are a business entity, your first step is to request a dedicated number from your telecommunication partner, who will gather and save your company’s brand name, logo, short description and contact information. When your Verified SMS is sent to the recipient, it is authenticated and encrypted by Google displaying your verified brand visual and text elements on the phone of your customer. Also a short text confirms the authentication at the bottom of each of your message.

The VSIM service is primarily designed to combat phishing, where users’ sense of security and information security are particularly important. Typically:

  • When sending PINs, fraud alerts,
  • sending order identifiers and confirmations, critical reminders (e.g. on arrival of package) or
  • messages with links that allow you to complete a process (e.g. change your password, apply for a call, etc.)

In addition, it also should be used whenever brand building, user experience, or customer trust is an eminent goal.

Isn’t that just another messaging platform?

 WhatsApp, FB Messenger, WeChat, Viber and other Over-the-Top (OTT) providers also have solid business messaging services. So what makes Google’s VSIM so special?

 

We have to take a look at the coverage and the technology. Android dominates 75% of the world market, with Android Messages (i.e. VSIM and RCS capable applications) penetrating nearly 100% within Android users. So globally, 3 out of 4 people are firmly available on this platform. No other messaging tools can live up to this. Apple’s iMessage share is 22%, and WhatsApp, the market-leading OTT, is “only” used by 1.6 billion people out of a total 4 billion smartphone owners. (The Chinese OS created as a result of the US-China trade war may significantly disrupt the hegemony of Android, but let’s not go into that now, maybe in the next article).

So what makes Google Verified SMS different from the rest?

  • VSIM always hits your recipients, even if there is no internet access, as it can turn into a simple SMS fallback version.
  • The users do not have to download any messaging applications, since Android Messages is by default on their phones.
  • Messages (and their senders) are authenticated without the content being passed to a third party (Google).

Not to mention that messages sent via VSIM appear instantly on the user’s device with an SMS notification. And we already know that SMS opening rates are close to 90 to 100 percent, and in most cases reading the message happens within 3 minutes.

Not globally launched yet, but already many are awaiting

All in all, with VSIM, a company can send SMS messages to more than 75 percent of its users by displaying the company’s brand and an official authentication.

 

Google is currently working with a few selected partners to provide the service, but everyone is hoping to make the new format widely available soon. Unfortunately, Hungary is not yet part of the Verified SMS pioneer countries team. So we have to wait a bit, but for one of our internationally active Hungarian clients we have already launched a pilot in nine of Google’s first preferred countries.

Once we have our measurement results, we will definitely report them on our blog.

If you are interested in deeper technology insights, you may want to check some Google content here and here.