Archive for the ‘robocalls’ Category

FCC requires anti-robocall tech after “voluntary” plan didn’t work out [Updated]

March 6th, 2020
Illustration of a robot wearing a phone headset.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | MassimoVernicesole)

Update (April 1, 2020): The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously to finalize the anti-robocall order on March 31, 2020, complying with instructions the commission received from Congress. The order "requires all originating and terminating voice service providers to implement STIR/SHAKEN in the Internet Protocol (IP) portions of their networks by June 30, 2021, a deadline that is consistent with Congress’s direction in the recently-enacted TRACED Act," the FCC said. As we wrote earlier, the FCC plans a one-year deadline extension for small phone providers. The FCC also voted to seek public comment on how "to promote caller ID authentication on voice networks that do not rely on IP technology," meaning older landline networks.

Original story from March 6, 2020 follows: Phone companies would be required to deploy technology that prevents spoofing of Caller ID under a plan announced today by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai.

Pai framed it as his own decision, with his announcement saying the chairman "proposed a major step forward... to protect consumers against spoofed robocalls." But in reality the FCC was ordered by Congress and President Trump to implement this new rule. The requirement on the FCC was part of the TRACED Act that was signed into law in December 2019. Pai previously hoped that all carriers would deploy the technology voluntarily.

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FCC accuses carriers of being “gateways” for foreign robocallers

February 5th, 2020
Illustration of a smartphone receiving a robocall, with a picture of a robot on the screen.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | MassimoVernicesole)

The Federal Communications Commission is asking phone carriers for help blocking robocalls made from outside the US and is implementing a congressionally mandated system to trace the origin of illegal robocalls.

The FCC yesterday sent letters to seven US-based voice providers "that accept foreign call traffic and terminate it to US consumers." Tracebacks conducted by the USTelecom trade group and the FCC found that each of these companies' services is "being used as a gateway into the United States for many apparently illegal robocalls that originate overseas," the FCC's letters to the companies say.

The FCC letters were sent to All Access Telecom, Globex, Piratel, Talkie, Telcast, ThinQ, and Third Base. These are mainly wholesale voice providers rather than companies that sell phone service directly to home or business customers. For example, All Access Telecom says it provides "wholesale VoIP termination services" to phone providers.

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FCC proposes to fine racist troll $13 million for robocalling spree

January 31st, 2020
Woman holds phone

Enlarge (credit: Tim Robberts)

The Federal Communications Commission is preparing to fine a Utah man $12.9 million for conducting a string of racist robocalling campaigns across the United States over the last two years.

The FCC says one of the campaigns seemed like an attempt to tamper with a jury in an ongoing case. Another targeted a newspaper for criticizing his earlier campaigns.

Shortly before the 2018 election, the man, Scott Rhodes, reportedly made 766 spoofed robocalls in Florida, where black Democrat Andrew Gillum was running for governor. According to the FCC, "robocalls falsely claimed to be from the candidate and used 'a caricature of a black dialect' with jungle background noises."

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Posted in Policy, Racism, robocalls | Comments (0)

DOJ sues US telecom providers for connecting Indian robocall scammers

January 30th, 2020
Woman looks at phone.

Enlarge (credit: Luis Alvarez / Getty Images)

The US Department of Justice has filed lawsuits (PDF and PDF) against two small telecommunications providers that have allegedly connected hundreds of millions of fraudulent robocalls from Indian call centers to US residents. The feds want a New York federal judge to cut off the companies' access from the US telephone network. The government says a judge has already issued a restraining order against one of the defendants.

Fraudulent robocalls are a serious problem in the United States—and the Justice Department says two US companies contributed significantly to the problem. Over a 23-day period in May and June of last year, for example, defendant TollFreeDeals connected 720 million calls to US numbers. According to the Justice Department, 425 million of the calls lasted for one second or less—suggesting that many were unwanted.

The feds say that during those two months, TollFreeDeals connected 182 million calls from a single India-based call center. Of these calls, more than 90 percent appeared to come from one of 1,000 source numbers. And of those numbers, more than 80 percent have been associated with fraudulent robocalls.

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Cable industry fights plan to require robocall-detection technology

August 27th, 2019
A person's hand dials a landline phone.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Chin Leong Teoh | EyeEm)

The cable industry is fighting an attempt to require deployment of robocall-detection technology.

Some phone providers have already begun deploying the technology in question, which is called SHAKEN/STIR. The technology authenticates callers with digital certificates to prevent spoofing of Caller ID numbers. But Charter—the lobby group that represents Comcast and other cable companies—wants to make sure the Federal Communications Commission doesn't impose any deadlines on the rollout.

The FCC in June proposed to require implementation of SHAKEN/STIR "if major voice service providers fail to meet an end-of-2019 deadline for voluntary implementation." The commission also sought public comment on the proposal. Consumer Reports and other consumer advocacy groups subsequently asked the FCC for a requirement that major phone providers implement SHAKEN/STIR at no extra charge to consumers by June 2020.

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Posted in Biz & IT, cable industry, cable lobby, NCTA, Policy, robocalls, shaken/stir | Comments (0)

US phone carriers make empty, unenforceable promises to fight robocalls

August 23rd, 2019
Illustration of a robot wearing a phone headset.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | MassimoVernicesole)

Phone companies and attorneys general from all 50 US states are touting a new agreement to fight robocalls, but it won't actually do much to help consumers.

The top wireless carriers and home phone providers promised attorneys general from every state and the District of Columbia that they would offer free robocall blocking and take other steps to fight robocalls. But the agreement imposes no legally binding requirements on phone providers. "Failure to adhere to these principles is not in itself a basis for liability," a disclaimer on the agreement notes.

Even if breaking the agreement was a basis for liability, there would be no deadline to comply. "Adherence to these principles may take time for the voice service providers to plan for and implement," the disclaimer also said, while providing no specific timeline for the carriers to fulfill their promises.

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AT&T and T-Mobile fight Caller ID spoofing with number verification system

August 14th, 2019
A smartphone with an incoming phone call from an unknown caller.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Tero Vesalainen)

AT&T and T-Mobile announced a joint anti-robocall initiative today, but they didn't promise any new call-blocking capabilities for their customers.

The carriers made a big deal of the partnership, saying in an announcement that they "put differences aside to fight unwanted robocalls for customers." Specifically, the companies said they are now using the new SHAKEN/STIR technology to determine whether Caller ID numbers are being spoofed in calls made between the two carriers.

Theoretically, carriers could use this Caller ID authentication technology to automatically block calls that fail the authentication test. But that's not what's happening now. For example, AT&T told Ars that it's using Caller ID authentication as one data point in its anti-robocall algorithm but that it isn't blocking calls solely based on whether they aren't authenticated.

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Posted in AT&T, Biz & IT, robocalls, shaken/stir, t-mobile | Comments (0)

AT&T’s robocall-blocking expansion won’t block spam calls unless you pay extra

July 10th, 2019
Two Android phones running AT&T's Call Protect and Mobile Security apps.

Enlarge / AT&T's Call Protect and Mobile Security apps for Android. (credit: AT&T)

AT&T yesterday said it will add "automatic fraud blocking and suspected spam-call alerts" to mobile phone lines for no added cost, but the carrier still imposes limits on blocking of spam calls unless customers pay extra.

"New AT&T Mobility consumer lines will come with the anti-robocall service. Millions of existing AT&T customers also will have it automatically added to their accounts over the coming months," AT&T's announcement said.

Despite the change, customers will still have to manually add undesired phone numbers to block lists or pay $4 a month to send all suspected spam calls to voicemail. That's because this is little more than an expansion of AT&T's Call Protect service, which has a basic free tier and a paid tier with automatic blocking of spam calls.

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Phone companies can block robocalls by default starting today, FCC says

June 6th, 2019
Illustration of a robot wearing a phone headset.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | MassimoVernicesole)

The Federal Communications Commission today voted to let phone companies block robocalls by default even when consumers have not opted in to robocall-blocking services.

The FCC said it "approved a Declaratory Ruling to affirm that voice service providers may, as the default, block unwanted calls based on reasonable call analytics, as long as their customers are informed and have the opportunity to opt out of the blocking."

Phone providers already block robocalls on an opt-in basis, sometimes charging consumers for the blocking services. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says the commission's rules were vague as to whether robocall blocking is legal on an opt-out basis but that today's ruling will fix that problem.

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Ajit Pai’s robocall plan lets carriers charge for new call-blocking tools

May 15th, 2019
Ajit Pai’s robocall plan lets carriers charge for new call-blocking tools

Enlarge (credit: ullstein bild | Getty Images)

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is calling on carriers to block robocalls by default without waiting for consumers to opt in to call-blocking services. But he hasn't proposed making this a requirement and is leaving it up to carriers to decide whether to charge for such services.

To encourage carriers, Pai is proposing rule changes making it clear that carriers are allowed to block calls by default. Call blocking by default isn't explicitly outlawed by the FCC, but Pai's announcement today said that "many voice providers have held off developing and deploying call-blocking tools by default because of uncertainty about whether these tools are legal under the FCC's rules."

In a call with reporters this morning, Pai said the uncertainty stems from a 2015 FCC order in which "the FCC suggested that its rules and regulations would not prohibit call-blocking services to the extent that consumers opted into them. Many members of the industry perceived that interpretation to make illegal, potentially, the blocking of calls by default."

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