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AT&T, Apple, Google To Work On 'Robocall' Crackdown (reuters.com) 113

Last month the FCC had pressed major U.S. phone companies to take immediate steps to develop technology that blocks unwanted automated calls available to consumers at no charge. It had demanded the concerned companies to come up with a "concrete, actionable" plan within 30 days. Well, the companies have complied. On Friday, 30 major technology companies announced they are joining the U.S. government to crack down on automated, pre-recorded telephone calls that regulators have labeled as "scourge." Reuters adds: AT&T, Alphabet, Apple, Verizon Communications and Comcast are among the members of the "Robocall Strike Force," which will work with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. The strike force will report to the commission by Oct. 19 on "concrete plans to accelerate the development and adoption of new tools and solutions," said AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson, who is chairing the group. The group hopes to put in place Caller ID verification standards that would help block calls from spoofed phone numbers and to consider a "Do Not Originate" list that would block spoofers from impersonating specific phone numbers from governments, banks or others.
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AT&T, Apple, Google To Work On 'Robocall' Crackdown

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  • Fuck It (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sexconker ( 1179573 ) on Friday August 19, 2016 @01:11PM (#52733227)

    I just don't answer my phone when it does that noisy thing. It happens about once a month. It's never good news anyway, and if it's important I get a followup text or email anyway.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I set mine to whitelist only for a while. It would send anyone that wasn't in my contacts list to a "number is disconnected" message. It seemed to be working great, but then I noticed everywhere I went would need to verify my current contact information because my number would be marked as invalid.

      Back to dumping all non-contacts to voicemail and deleting all messages without reading. Definitely going to bite me when someone has to borrow a phone to get a hold of me for something important.

      • I don't know why they don't just outlaw this.

        According to some TFA I read recently that I can't be bothered to go find, there are only a handful of companies responsible for most robocalls. Stamping the nonsense out wouldn't cost anyone anything. They employ few people and probably generate very little economic activity anyway. It's just a way of cheaply carpet-bombing people with unwanted advertising.

        • I don't know why they don't just outlaw this.

          If you are on the DNC list it is already outlawed. "Just one more law" won't fix this problem any more than it will fix the problem of criminals using guns, or secretaries of state using personal email servers for classified email.

      • I use white-list only. If a phone number isn't in my contact list it goes straight to voicemail. There are lots of apps that you can use that will provide this service. Yeah, occasionally I miss a call from a new number that I wanted to take, but I can always call them back if they leave a message.

      • by cob666 ( 656740 )
        I do pretty much the same thing. Any call coming in that isn't in my contact list goes directly to VM. My mobile provider has a nice VM to text service so I get to scan the text of the message and if it looks legit I'll either listen to the VM or call back. All spam numbers go into my blocked list. The number of spam or robo calls I get is pretty low now.
    • by emil ( 695 )

      Put this sequence of tones [devpost.com] at the start of your voicemail.

      The automatic dialing hardware will mark your number as out of service in their database.

      • by OhPlz ( 168413 )

        No it won't, unless they're using seriously old equipment. Nobody does call-progress detection over the voice channel anymore because it's more expensive than reading the out-of-band signalling.

  • Is this so hard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by backslashdot ( 95548 ) on Friday August 19, 2016 @01:15PM (#52733251)

    Seriously, they will only prevent spoofing from "important" numbers? That's open to all kinds of abuse. How many people know their bank's number? This plan will make the problem even worse and eventually they will ask for federal funds to "manage" the problem.

    Is it difficult to come up with a better plan? Actually yes. Yes when you don't care about helping people. This can be ended quite easily, blacklist numbers that receive a large ratio of complaints to calls. Make it possible to rate received calls. Also, prevent spoofing from all numbers, not just specific ones. Wow this plan didn't take me 30 days to come up with, it took me 30 seconds.

    • This can be ended quite easily, blacklist numbers that receive a large ratio of complaints to calls.

      First, numbers are trivially spoofed so that may not help. Second, that requires a certain percentage of users to still receive (and spam-flag) those calls. No thanks.

      Wow this plan didn't take me 30 days to come up with, it took me 30 seconds.

      Like most such plans forged in a moment...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I don't think I read the same thing you read.

      The text I read that they will implement "Caller ID verification standards that would help block calls from spoofed phone numbers" AND also they're going to prevent spoofing of "important" numbers.

      This isn't ONLY preventing important numbers. That is in addition to the new standards to prevent spoofs in general and yes we need these.

    • by PMuse ( 320639 )

      Obligatory Critique*:

      Their plan proposes a

      (X) technical (X) legislative ( ) market-based ( ) vigilante

      approach to fighting [telephone] spam. Their idea will not work. Here is why it won't work. (One or more of the following may apply to their particular idea, and it may have other flaws which used to vary from state to state before a bad federal law was passed.)

      ( ) No one will be able to find the guy or collect the money
      ( ) It is defenseless against brute force attacks
      (X) It will stop spam for two weeks and

      • Ah, I remember that dismissive form from the usenet days. Somehow email spam has been completely and utterly solved for me and many others. I use outlook with aggressive filtering at work, and gmail at home. I rarely see spam and rarely have false positives. I forgot all about spam until I saw your post!

        I'm confident the same merry fuckers that fixed email spam can fix phone spam.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 19, 2016 @01:15PM (#52733253)

    They've been working with us to expand our robocalling since it is so profitable for them. We just added two new PRI lines and budgeted over six figures more per month for long distance calling with them. They love robocallers and are working hard to sell them services.

  • by xeoron ( 639412 ) on Friday August 19, 2016 @01:21PM (#52733291) Homepage
    If a number is not in the list contact list, have the caller answer a question before they can have it ring the phone. Maybe it is a personal question or access code, or maybe it is a basic question. For instance what color is grass when it is dead? 1 green, 2 blue, 3 yellow, 4 brown.
    • That just means that a robocall will have a 1 in 12 chance of getting the correct answer. So, worst case, they need to re-dial the call 12 times... no problem.

      In order for this to work, you would have to make the response complex. Math wouldn't work, because speech to text systems would make arithmetic trivial for the robocaller. So the question would have to require a alphabetic answer of more than 2 characters to be effective. Even then... with machine learning.. who know how trivial this would be to bypa

    • what color is grass when it is dead? 1 green, 2 blue, 3 yellow, 4 brown.

      I HATE questions like this. All those captchas, as well as text book questions back in my school days, you have to pretend to be an idiot in order to guess the answer they want (which is often different from the "right" or "correct" answer).

      What color is dead grass? Yellow seems a reasonable choice to me. I've seen lots of yellow spots in otherwise green lawns everybody calls "dead patches". Green might be the correct answer in many

  • Gee, I wonder if political robocalls will continue to be exempt like they are now. Funny how that works, huh?
  • by El Cubano ( 631386 ) on Friday August 19, 2016 @01:24PM (#52733319)

    The group hopes to put in place Caller ID verification standards that would help block calls from spoofed phone numbers and to consider a "Do Not Originate" list that would block spoofers from impersonating specific phone numbers from governments, banks or others.

    This is totally the wrong approach. It is why, for example, antivirus products tend to not work all that well. Instead, the phone company should not be able to legally allow phone number spoofing unless and until the entity that wants to spoof proves to the phone company that they or another legal entity they control is the legal owner of the number which will be displayed. I'm sure it will still be abused because people are sort of relentless in their desire to game the system, but it would be orders of magnitude better than what we have now.

    • by marvinglenn ( 195135 ) on Friday August 19, 2016 @01:29PM (#52733371)
      The way the phone switching network works; often, the a phone company cannot tell that a call coming in on a trunk line (from another regional operator) that the caller ID data is spoofed. They need to fix that problem first.
      • by El Cubano ( 631386 ) on Friday August 19, 2016 @01:55PM (#52733563)
        Very true. However, this is one of the rare instances where there exists a solid and nearly complete technological solution (telecom is regulated and it would be entirely feasible to both fix the problem you describe and then implement the solution I described) to something that is social problem (people being deceptive and abusive over telecommunications media). If the problem doesn't get fixed then it is either because institutional inertia on the part of the telecom providers or because they think it would be more profitable to maintain the status quo.
      • by SeaFox ( 739806 )

        How does ANI work for billing purposes then?

        • by OhPlz ( 168413 )

          Poorly. Verizon used to give us pseudo-ANIs so they could bill for calls coming out of our telephony switches. They were "pseudo" in that there was no actual subscriber line that matched that ANI. Except there often was. Some poor SOB would end up with a bill for all our call traffic that used that pseudo-ANI that month, refuse to pay, then Verizon would kill the ANI and our switch would basically fall over dead since it couldn't send traffic out anymore. The best part is that we were providing carrier

      • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

        100% bs. they know where they are coming from.

        When a VoIP call is made to a landline or cellphone number, the call travels for a portion of the time over the PSTN. The amount of time the call spends on the PSTN usually determines the price of the call (apart from the base charges for any VoIP to VoIP call).

        At the point where it enters the PSTN, a process called address translation takes place. It means that the IP address is translated to the identifying phone number of the called party to complete the call

      • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

        often, the a phone company cannot tell that a call coming in on a trunk line (from another regional operator) that the caller ID data is spoofed.

        That other regional operator can tell when the caller ID data is spoofed. They just need to stop allowing those calls to go through.

    • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

      So have it work similar to DKIM or SPF with SMTP, just with POTS instead.

    • Agreed. At the very least, there should be if not outright rejection, some logging to a permanent file for events like, say, the caller ID = called ID, or caller ID = 9876543210. If they would just force such things to be anonymous calls, I'm already blocking those.
  • >Random phonecall/email/etc... arrives >Whitelist says "You're not on the list. Credentials?" >Tries to bypass whitelist with phoney password. Every attempt gets a delayed response for security. Gets booted , nulled, or honey-potted after a few tries. >Recipient remains undisturbed. Nothing of value lost. But of course they would NEVER do this since they make money for looking the other way as this problem persists. Therefore it must be implemented at the enduser level. That way, it'd make no d
  • "...joining the U.S. government". That's a hoot..

    Most of these bulk calls this time of year of from my local Congress-critter. Making sure I know to vote for his/her team. Politicians have a way of putting blinders on when it comes to there own bulls**t.

    No, can't have those political calls blocked - them's important.

  • Or any of the other ILEC and CLEC telecoms for that matter...

    IMO, they know their cash cows are about to get shot, so they don't want to be near them when it does.

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Friday August 19, 2016 @01:56PM (#52733573)

    ...The group hopes to put in place Caller ID verification standards that would help block calls from spoofed phone numbers and to consider a "Do Not Originate" list that would block spoofers from impersonating specific phone numbers from governments, banks or others....

    I'm happy that the original focus is more on the source than the destination.

    What I would also like to see is something along the lines of... tracking the robocalls back to their origination networks and creating a blacklist of the resulting bad actor networks.

    Some entity is allowing these calls into the public telephone network.

    The entryways to our public phone networks obviously need to be more secure than they currently appear to be.

  • With modern phones, you can identify who is calling - unless they explicitly refuse to identify themselves, in which case there is no reason to pick it up. In fact, I have very few reasons to pick up any calls at home - I just let them go to my voicemail, to deal with them at my own leisure later on. I do not need Apple, Google and AT&T for this.
  • Why doesn't the FCC just go after Rachel? It cannot be that difficult to track down who's behind it (hint: they advertise on craigslist in Orlando) and sue them into oblivion. I cannot fathom why this hasn't happened yet.

  • Don't know, but to me it's simple and easy. While the caller ID may be spoofed, they actually have the charge back info somewhere in the call setup data.

    If you get one of these calls, just have a system where you dial a * code (e.g. *66) and it gets flagged. More than 100 (or larger number), per day flagged from your billing info and the callers line is blocked at the source and you have to explain why it should ever be re-enabled. This would include the business and bank/payment method so these caller

  • Stop accepting any calls routed from unknown phone companies. It will stop 99% of them that are simply a freaking PC that is making VOIP calls via a scumbag VOIP service provider that will let them send whatever CID information they want.

    Call coming into AT&T from a unknown and untrusted call routing? Refuse it.

  • Too bad it won't apply to political action calls.
  • I guess I misunderstood TFA. Didn't FTC hold a $50,000 challenge in 2013 and award a prize? [ftc.gov]

    I immediately attempted to set this up at my house but of course ATT didn't implement the third party ring feature which is the central requirement. Funny thing...

    Oh well. We have an answering machine, anyone who calls is welcome to use it. All the phones have their ringers off. We get about 20 calls a day, and about 2 messages a week. I wonder who all the other calls are from?

  • In Aus we were getting regular robo calls at election time,
    disregarding the do not call register which is a government body,
    Australian Media and Communications Authority (the ACMA)
    https://www.donotcall.gov.au/ [donotcall.gov.au]

  • I've read that robocalls cannot be made explicitly illegal because they are protected as free speech, like junk mail.
    But that's a bad comparison. Here are some details that might have been overlooked.

    1. Fee speech is protected in public spaces and forums like newspapers, etc. and the government operated postal service (you don't get junk mail from UPS or Fedex). My phone is not a public space. A better analogy than a mailbox would be to treat my phone like the front door to my house. It is the front door t

    • What we need is not a disingenuous technological solution from a phone company with a conflicted interest. Simply make it illegal to make pre-recorded phone calls that are not pre-approved by the recipient. Make it illegal to obfuscate the caller-ID system and make text-based caller ID mandatory for anything commercial.

      Another "just one more law" solution to something that is already illegal and is a social issue created by a technical problem.

      Think about it. BOING! Congress acts. (Or Obama makes it an Executive Order, bypassing Congress.) It is now illegal to call RonTheHurler for any reason that RonTheHurler doesn't approve of. Now tell me how this is enforced. You don't have any caller id information to turn over to the feds. Your phone company fed you the invalid caller id info that they passed on to you. They maybe

      • You know what, I completely forgot about the Do Not Call registry. Thanks for reminding me. I'm registered now and I'll be sure to report any stray calls after the grace period ends.

        Regarding trespass, it could be argued that a sidewalk from the street to my door, which most houses have, is an implied invitation. Especially if the primary means of getting in and out of the house by the owner is through the garage. But you are right, a simple "no trespassing" sign should be sufficient. How would a "no tresp

  • Didn't Nomorobo [nomorobo.com] already solve most of this problem?
    I use it for free on my residential numbers.
    There is a charge for non-residential phones.
    Stops 98%of all robocalls, even the ones with spoofed IDs.
    • by bjb ( 3050 )
      It does seem to significantly help, but the catch is that not only does it still let one ring go through, but perhaps people aren't super comfortable with having all their incoming calls hit a 3rd party as well.

      For those who don't know how the service works, it relies on your phone provider supporting "simultaneous ring" which is having your incoming calls ring not only your phone but also another phone that you specify. The service detects where the call is coming from and if it believes it is spam, it w

  • ANI is expensive for a regular residential line. If it was made free, people would know the real number calling them. Give phones the option that if caller ID doesn't match ANI, the call goes to voicemail.

I was playing poker the other night... with Tarot cards. I got a full house and 4 people died. -- Steven Wright