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Tuesday, 25 June 2019 22:15

Robocalls Update: A Consumer Protection Crisis

This article is an update to our October 2019 post about ways to reduce the number of annoying robocalls.

Congress And Government Agencies Move Toward Stopping Illegal Robocalls

In early June, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed a ruling that allows and encourages phone companies to block robocalls by default. USTelecom, a trade group that represents telecommunications providers, applauded the FCC's proposal. "The criminals that are scamming consumers with this flood of illegal robocalls must be confronted by industry and government head-on," the group's president and CEO Jonathan Spalter said in a statement. "This is a big and bold proposal by the FCC that can bolster our industry's cutting-edge call blocking and authentication efforts and do something important: stop unwanted calls from reaching consumers in the first place."

In May, the United States Senate overwhelmingly approved the Thune, Markey Traced Act by a vote 97-1. The Traced Act will also crack down on annoying, illegal, and abusive robocalls. Senator Markey (MA) said that it's"a daily deluge of calls every American receives every day, a consumer protection crisis."

Combatting Spoofed Calls: STIR/SHAKEN Protocol

Receiving unsolicited calls is bad, spoofed calls are a riskier issue. Telecommunications companies currently have technology in place to prevent robocalls but the technology doesn't address call spoofing, which is the practice of altering outbound calling numbers in order to deceive phone customers by displaying a different caller ID number. This deceptive practice increases the chance that consumers may answer more malicious calls and become victims of scams.

The FCC has been encouraging the telecommunications industry to develop a solution to stop robocalls and spoofed calling numbers since 2014. The industry’s response has been to develop a new technology standard called STIR [1] (Secure Telephony Identity Revisited) and SHAKEN [2] (Secure Handling of Asserted information using toKENs) which defines how telephone service providers should implement the technology to ensure calling numbers are not spoofed.

On March 5th this year, AT&T and Comcast successfully tested the first STIR/SHAKEN authentication between two different networks, AT&T Phone digital home service and Comcast's Xfinity Voice home phone service. "The test used phones on the companies' consumer networks - not in a lab or restricted to special equipment," AT&T said in a press release. Previously, several telecom operators had successfully tested the protocol within their own networks only. 

(Note: this protocol is also referred to as SHAKEN/STIR by some communication providers.)

Robocall Relief

YouMail, a call-blocking company, estimates there were 4.9 billion calls placed in April 2019 — that's a rate of 14.9 calls per person.

At the June 6th FCC robocall hearing, Chairman Pai spoke of the consumer comments he received:

"Please respect the wishes of a vast majority of citizens who wish to free their lives from automatic robot calling. Stop robocalls!”

“I received over 500 robocalls from the end of February until the end of March of this year from so-called Health Insurance. These calls ALL came from SPOOFED phone numbers. Why would any legitimate company have to spoof their phone number to try to solicit business? The calls slowed down for a few weeks but are now kicking up again. Today I have received 8 calls with no voice mails. I now have to put my phone on Do Not Disturb so I can get some peace. . . . You will be my hero and I dare say millions of other Americans if you actually put an end to this harassment.”

“[D]o not side with the businesses that want to harass our fellow citizens. We are getting international and domestic robo calls [sic] at all hours of the day including the early AM hours from countries like Lithuania. This needs to stop.”

"These voices are representative of what I hear when I travel across the United States. If there is one thing in our country right now that unites Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, socialists and libertarians, vegetarians and carnivores, Ohio State and Michigan fans, it is that they are sick and tired of being bombarded by unwanted robocalls. And my message to the American people today is simple: We hear you and we are on your side," said Pai.

Major carriers are expected to implement the STIR/SHAKEN protocol by the end of the year. But in case it isn’t implemented, the FCC will not hesitate to take regulatory action. "That’s why today, we’re taking the necessary steps so that we will be in a position to take regulatory action early next year, should that be required," Pai stated.

Relief may not be immediate, but it is coming. We'll continue to keep you up to date as more information becomes available.

Sources: NPR, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, FCC: DECLARATORY RULING AND THIRD FURTHER NOTICE OF PROPOSED RULEMAKING (Released: June 7, 2019)

Read 1621 times Last modified on Wednesday, 26 June 2019 18:09

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