Google Says Crypto Is a Scam, But a Robot Monitoring Your Calls Is Fine
10.10.2018

Google has a new video out that makes a nod to cryptocurrency—and not in a good way. The ad (first spotted by a contributor at Forbes) is for Google’s new call-screening service, creatively named “Call Screen.” It features both some excellent Grant-Hepburn banter and a strong subtext: that cryptocurrency is as much of a scam as a phone call from a supposedly generous prince.

The spot kicks off with Ronny Chieng of “The Daily Show” getting a very important message from Call Screen:

“Look, it’s a prince!,” he exclaims. “He wants to make me super rich. I’m taking this call.”

Ronny—or rather his character, “Teddy”—is clearly a gullible idiot. His more grounded partner, played by fellow “Daily Show”-er Dulcé Sloan, quickly shows how to use Call Screen to report the sketchy call as spam. Teddy’s next call is from the electric company, telling him his bill is unusually high this month:

“Well, cryptocurrency mining takes a lot of energy,” Teddy explains.

“Cryptocurrency?” Sloan replies, trying to be gentle. “That money isn’t real.”

“Well, I’ve got news for you. Money isn’t real.”

And theeeeere it is. Cryptocurrency, like the Nigerian Prince Scam, is for gullible dreamers. And as hard as it might be to hear, Google is doing real crypto-advocates a favor by pushing that comparison.

While “Teddy” says he’s mining crypto, the real crypto scammers, from brazen BitConnect-style ponzi schemes to operations that disguise themselves as “normal” companies, have leveraged blockchain and “ICO” hype to sell useless tokens to unsuspecting marks. The public’s still-shallow understanding of blockchain technology and its real promise, combined with the radical ease of “investing” in crypto, has let bad actors fleece speculators for billions of dollars. Google itself even took the step of banning crypto-related ads back in March, though it has since partly reversed that stance.

The general public really shouldn’t be pouring more money (or mining power) into crypto until things are cleaned up, with scam tokens delisted from exchanges and half-cocked “businesses” allowed to die in shame. Down the road, that will leave more energy focused on real ideas, and eventually let truly worthy projects attract smarter money.

Some of those projects might even help us unleash ourselves from Google. Google Call Screen shows exactly why that needs to happen.

Call Screen uses a new human-sounding bot called Duplex to interrogate callers. Duplex is also a broader AI-driven personal assistant program that can do things like make restaurant reservations on your behalf.

But Google doesn’t make money selling this innovative A.I. assistant—selling a product is for suckers! Instead, you’d better believe that Duplex will collect and aggregate data about you and everyone it contacts, scammer or otherwise. Google will collate all that data to build an even better AI assistant, attracting more users. And somewhere along the way, it’ll figure out a way to sell creepy, invasive, devilishly effective advertisements using that data.

Google will then, almost inevitably, lose control of the data, as they did with millions of Google+ profiles. They might also cover that leak up—as they did with Google+, and as Facebook did with Cambridge Analytica. When the news breaks, you’ll probably be peeved that months or years worth of your archived phone records were leaked onto the dark web. But by then you’ll be so used to having a robot planning your every move that you’ll shrug it off. And Google will continue making money off of your preference for convenience over security.

And that’s why cryptocurrency, and blockchain more broadly, are ultimately not a scam. Decentralization of personal data, including the data generated by payments, may still help us avoid a future in which giant corporations know your habits intimately and sell that proprietary information to the highest bidder. That better, crypto-enabled alternative, might aggregate collective wisdom, let you make money from your own data, or enable a sane approach to social media.

But every crypto scam drains away the potential for that alternate future. So thanks, Google, for boosting the message. Blockchain and crypto will be a scam…right up until the moment they set us free.