How to record phone calls

Whether you're conducting an interview or just want to capture a bad customer-service call for posterity, these are your options.

wiretap-cc.jpg
Photo by Steve Jurvetson

With all the recent kerfuffle over Comcast's horrendous customer service (and the recorded calls that let the world share in the unpleasantness), it stands to reason you might wonder how to record a phone call of your own.

After all, if you're on the receiving end of such disastrously bad service, you might want audio proof.

Of course, there are other, more innocuous, reasons for recording calls, like if you're interviewing someone for a story. Whatever your plans, there are plenty of tools available. Before you use any of them, however, make sure you're legally allowed to do so.

Know the law

Sure, the NSA can get away with recording calls, but can you? As noted by the Digital Media Law Project, "From a legal standpoint, the most important question in the recording context is whether you must get consent from one or all of the parties to a phone call or conversation before recording it."

tape-recorder-booklets-cc.jpg
Photo by Evan P. Cordes

There are both federal and state laws pertaining to this, and it goes without saying that you should investigate them before recording any phone conversation.

That said, when you call a customer-service number and hear the message, "Calls may be recorded for training and quality purposes," that's the company's way of obtaining your consent. (If you don't consent, you obviously have the option of hanging up.) To my thinking, this also implies consent on the part of the company, meaning you should be free and clear to record at your end. But I'm not a lawyer.

Likewise, if both parties verbally consent to the recording -- like if you're conducting a phone interview -- and you capture that consent within the recording, that should be sufficient to absolve you of any legal complications. Again, consult a lawyer if you have concerns.

Tools for recording calls

Assuming you're squared away with the law, how do you actually make a recording of a phone call?

The most obvious method: Enable speakerphone mode on whatever phone you're using, then using a second device to record the call. This could be anything from an old-school tape recorder to your PC's Webcam to an iPhone running the stock Voice Memos app.

The downside to this approach is that the speakerphone picks up all other ambient noise as well. If you're typing while talking (like during an interview), the clack of your keys might be an unwelcome addition to the recording.

call-recorder-acr.jpg
NLL

A better option: Google Voice. The service makes call recording insanely easy: Just press 4 during a call to start recording, then press 4 again to stop. When you're done, you'll have an MP3-formatted file you can listen to online or download.

Unfortunately, this works only with incoming calls. If you're making an outbound call, like to a customer-service line, the feature won't work. (Tip: Use GetHuman to set up a customer-service callback using your Google Voice number. Now you can record away.)

You can also try some app-powered recording options. RMC: Android Call Recorder, for example, can easily preserve both incoming and outgoing calls, but like many similar apps for Android, it captures only ambient sound -- meaning you have to enable the speakerphone, otherwise you'll get only your voice.

iPhone users can try something like Call Recorder Free, which relies on three-way calling to merge your call with a recording line. But take note that the free version is fairly limited; to unlock most features, you'll need to unlock an in-app upgrade ($9.99).

For the best results, consider a voice-over-IP app that supports call recording. WePhone, for example, offers competitive rates for both long-distance and international calls, and starts/stops recording with just the tap of a button.

Have you found a better app or other solution for recording phone calls? Name it in the comments! We'll be listening...

 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Show Comments Hide Comments
Latest Galleries from CNET
Tech industry's high-flying 2014
Uber's tumultuous ups and downs in 2014 (pictures)
The best and worst quotes of 2014 (pictures)
A roomy range from LG (pictures)
This plain GE range has all of the essentials (pictures)
Sony's 'Interview' heard 'round the world (pictures)