Thursday, April 7, 2011

To Beep or Not to Beep: that is the bleeping question....

There are quite a number of voice recorders out there for mobile phones. Several are quite well done.

But all have a common failing so far in that they cannot disable the recording beep function (notification to the parties that the call is being recorded) in the Nokia Symbian^3 phones. (Apparently they have been successful in disabling the function on older phones.)

Beyond the existence of the beep are the questions of whether you should (ethical) or must (legal) employ it.

So the various call recorder programs are mostly novelties (for Nokia Symbian^3 users) until success is achieved in being able to choose to (or not to) use the function and (for all users) until resolution is achieved regarding ethical and legal questions on its use (or non use).

Note to self: Perhaps lawyers should be more properly called parenthesisists???

Recording Beep Function Description
Googling suggests that the recording beep function exists in Symbian^3 phones as a file in the Read Only Memory (ROM) of the phone. You must remove or nullify this source file from the ROM, an event well beyond my ken and apparently beyond the ken of everyone else so far.

Googling reports indicate that trying to remove this file from Nokia Symbian^3 phones crashes the ROM and requires it to be "re-flashed" - i.e., rerecorded, something I do not know how to do at this time...

Given that there is a beep then the next question is, how intrusive is it?

The beep sound will not get recorded and you will not hear it when you play back your recordings.

But anytime it beeps during the conversation it distracts you from the matters at hand.

Googling reports issues with the amplitude (loudness) being extremely distracting.

And conceivably the frequency (pitch) of the tone might be quite irritating.

Distractions In professional employment translate to delays and loss of quality of service, hence time, hence dollars . Professional call centers have resolved this by inserting the familiar "This call is being recorded for training and quality control purposes." recording at the start of the conversation, thereafter leaving participants to carry on beep-free.

(To which I usually reply "Make my day", but I digress...)

But this option does not exist for Nokia Symbian^3 users.

So there is some threshold of amplitude, frequency, and periodicity above which the product becomes unusable. And in some products the beep causes a delay and subsequent distortion in the recorded signal.

Beep Control
There is some control to be had here. For example:

SymbRecorder has three beep modes.
  • In Modes 1 and  2 the beep occurs every 15 seconds.
  • In Mode 3 at the default Beep Suppress Tune of 80 the beep occurs every two seconds while at a Beep Suppress Tune of 6000 (the maximum available) it delays to seven seconds. Perhaps this function is  better named the Beep Suppress Time in milliseconds??
  • Changing recording formats (AMR/WAV) has no effect on the beep.
So even if you can't get rid of it altogether, how about making it as infrequent as possible or examining the volume or frequency of the beep? Well, now you're back to the law, see  Amplitude, Frequency, and Periodicity below...

Anyhow, here are my impressions after installing and using the programs on my Nokia Symbian^3 N8, with My Humble Opinion (MHO) being rated on a scale of x out of 5 (x/5):
  • TotalRecall (4.5/5)
    Probably the smoothest I've seen. It has two beep suppression modes: Enable and Enable Advanced. But neither suppresses the beep on the Nokia N8. They are "working on it".

  • SymbRecorder (4/5)
    Very cool, with lots of customization options - geek perfect.

    But it also fails to suppress the beep on the Nokia N8. They also are working on it.

    The first two modes are very good quality. The third mode introduces a distortion in the recording whenever the beep occurs although you don't hear the beep on the recording. You can tweak the sampling rate, so perhaps I could resolve that, but as long as the beep remains then why bother...

  • Best Call Recorder (3/5)
    They post a warning: Warning: the disable beep function will not work properly on S^3 devices in most cases, please test the fully functional trial version on your device before you buy (see the Download link).

    Sure enough, we installed it, the  beep is there on the Nokia N8, annoyingly frequently (approximately every two seconds). It doesn't appear on the recording itself but does introduce a burble into the recording.

  • Nokia N8 Voice Recorder (1/5) A default-installed application in the Nokia N8. Very fidgety, no autostart. If you start it before the call then it suspends when you switch away If you wait to start it until after the call then you lose several seconds of the conversation. And in any case you get the beep.
Oh, I need to mention, all of these do a fine job of recording Voice Clips if the phone is not on a call. So, bravo!

But that is not the point. The point is how to lose the beep!
    Ethics and Legality
    Of course, all the vendors give some kind of "Don't sue me" caveat regarding the legality (or not) of recording calls without the beep. IMHO, it seems that ethical or legal culpability depends on the purpose to which the data are put. Simply collecting the data should not be considered unethical or illegal...

    But then what do I know: I'm neither a priest nor a lawyer, just an engineer.

    Instead, while googling seems not to address ethical questions it does seem to indicated that it is illegal in some (many) cases to even collect the data.  

    However, on reflection, these laws seem to be designed to protect the individual from third party violation of privacy. Not the inferred interaction among individuals

    See the following, with the bullets highlighting critical details:
    • The U.S. federal law allows recording of phone calls with the consent of at least one party. This means if you are initiating a recording on a call that you are participating in, the other party does not need to be notified that the call is being recorded.

      This only makes sense if it is to protect you from a third party intrusion.
    •  Currently, 12 states [including MA  but not RI] require the consent of all parties. Interestingly, this is the most cited, albeit the minority, position among all my findings...

    • The Australian law prohibits a person from listening to or recording, by any means, of a communication in its passage over a telecommunications system without the knowledge of the person making the communication. Again, this suggests a jurisprudential focus on protecting the individuals from third party intrusion.

      "A communication includes conversation and a message, and any part of a conversation or message, whether in the form of speech, music or other sounds, data, text, visual images, signals or in any other form or combination of forms."
    • Some states and countries require "one-party notification" in which only one of the two individuals needs to be made aware that the call is being recorded... At least 37 US States, the District of Columbia,  the US Federal law, Canada, and England only require one-party notification.
    Amplitude, Frequency, and Periodicity
    Apparently there are no specifications on the amplitude (loudness) of the beep. There are specific requirements for the beep tone:

    The beep tone needs to be a 1260 to 1540 Hertz tone, lasting 170 to 250 milliseconds, and broadcast for both sides to hear every 12 to 15 seconds...

    Going Forward
    So, dear technologists, there is yet another opportunity for achievement in this world. Go forth and prosper: design systems with an option for the beep and, after the fact, figure out how to hack the ROMs of the world to control it.

    And, as for Nokia (and any other manufacturers), a libertarian view: Yoh! Dude! Lose the beep!

    Let me be responsible for my own happiness (and ethics and legality). Give me a paper to sign or whatever but

    Let ME live MY life.


    offers another objective comparison of the market leaders in this domain. Thanks to SymbSoft for pointing this out.

    As for me, I am now a newbie student of ROM patching.

    Googling:  how to rom patch nokia n8

    ROMPatcherPlus seems to be the market leader in this regard, but I haven't found its homepage, just a lot of warez sites.

    Much fodder to examine. But not tonight.


    vidhipradhan1988 said...

    Nice blog. I am now using Total Recall android app which record calls automatically with no beep noise. Also, it uploads files on server mechanically. Check this link for more details-

    Sonal Chouhan said...

    Beep have been very big problem on symbian phones. But now a day in android we can record a phone call without any beep.

    Andy L said...

    Hello, thank you both.I did install Total Recall again. Apparently it needs me to root the phone. I've never done that before, so I need to do some homework before I take that step. Lot's of people do it, but I haven't so as an engineer need to understand what it entails and the risks... :-)

    Thanks to Sonal, I've installed *that version, now wait for someone to call me to see if it works!


    Cheers, Andy