Whoever you are, whatever you do, robocalls are following you. It is indeed one of the most annoying things for Americans right now. AT&T CEO has even proved that he too is receiving the annoying auto-dialed phone calls from different companies intended for advertising, sales call, debt collection reminders, etc.
But comes Friday, major telecom giants like AT&T and Comcast are joining forces in a move that would impact robocalls in the country. Both companies, through a joint press release, announced a cross-network authentication system to verify calls between separate providers.
The press release called it a “milestone” and is expected to be rolled to most of AT&T and Comcast consumers later this year. This system is believed to be a nation’s first to allow a customer to see verified calls from all participating networks.
According to the joint press release, a test was conducted between AT&T Phone digital home service and Comcast Xfinity Voice home phone service, used phones “on the companies’ consumer networks—not in a lab or restricted to special equipment.” The test was said to have been conducted on March 5.
They employed the new “SHAKEN” (Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs) and “STIR” (Secure Telephone Identity Revisited) protocols meant to curb spoofed phone numbers.
“For example, a call that is illegally ‘spoofed’—or shows a faked number—will fail the SHAKEN/STIR Caller ID verification and will not be marked as verified,” the firms explained. “By contrast, verification will confirm that a call is really coming from the identified number or entity.”
This means that the system would allow a verified caller, say like your mom or your best friend, to call you anytime, but will filter and challenge calls that come from questionable sources claiming to be a “debt collection legal firm.”
The press release revealed that other major service providers would be conducting similar test runs with each other’s systems in order to verify if the SHAKEN/STIR implementations are compatible with their own systems.
As of writing, both companies have not released a timeline or an approximated date for the rollout of the SHAKEN/STIR feature, but both companies have hinted that it will probably be released before the year ends.
The announcement of the release of the feature and the team up with Comcast followed the CEO’s famous on-stage stunt where he claimed that he is being robocalled last week during a forum interview at an economic club event in Washington, D.C. early this week.
A stunt he pulled in the middle of his talk where Stephenson received a call in the middle of his interview, shows that even millionaires are not exempted from the wrath of robocalls and it is a problem that everyone – especially the FCC – should be concerned about.
While Stephenson is answering questions from the audience and some reporters, his Apple Watch rang. “I’m getting a robocall too,” he said after he declined the call from his Apple Watch. “It’s literally a robocall.”
Many questioned the stunt as a mere PR activity as the CEO has yet to offer any concrete measure that his company would take in order to fight the bane existence of robocalls. But it seems that the CEO has a secret under his sleeves and was only able to unleash it yesterday with the announcement of the successful testing of SHAKEN/STIR systems.
According to the study conducted by Seattle-based caller profile firm Hiya, more than 26.3 billion automated messages were received in the US last year alone. The results revealed that the number increased by 46 percent from 2017’s total of 18 billion which averages out to 10 spam calls per person, per month.
“While authentication won’t solve the problem of unwanted robocalls by itself,” the firms admitted, “it is a key step toward giving customers greater confidence and control over the calls they receive.”
Amid an increasing pressure on the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to resolve the problem, the agency seems unable to solve it – worse, it appears that they are even empowering robocalls with a new regulation that will even more loosely regulate organizations from using robocallers.
As pointed out by John Oliver in one of the episodes of Last Week Tonight where he robocalled the FCC to protest against robocalls, Ajit Pai, head of the FCC, might be against robocalls and has called it a problem and a ‘blight’ but is also objecting to all regulations that would have been instrumental in curtailing robocallers’ freedom to terrorize American households and was very happy when the rules that are already in place against it was overturned. Pai has succumbed to the pressure of telemarketers and bankers to redefine and narrow down what constitutes an auto-dial. This means that a lot of robocalls may not be considered robocalls anymore regardless of how annoying they still are.