The March of Technology: Takeaways from T-Mobile’s Announcement of Anti-Robocalling Feature

If you listened to Episode 3 of the Unprecedented podcast, you are aware of the cutting-edge technologies that companies like YouMail and Hiya are deploying to help consumers avoid scam and unwanted calls.  For example, Alex Algard, CEO of Hiya, discussed his work with AT&T on a call protect app for its subscribers that employs sophisticated algorithms to track when calls are wanted or unwanted based upon consumer behavior.  

Another mobile carrier is in the news this week.  T-Mobile just announced the launch of a call protection feature in tandem with Comcast Corp that uses the “Secure Telephony Identity Revisited (STIR)” and “Secure Handling of Asserted Information using toKENs (SHAKEN),”aka the STIR/SHAKEN, standards to identify authentic calls across networks.  It will initially be available on certain smartphone devices, and later in the year for Comcast Xfinity Voice home phone service customers. As the article points out, FCC Chairman Pai told major telecommunications providers that the agency would step in if they failed to implement the STIR/SHAKEN standard this year.  We pointed out in an earlier post how the proposed TRACED Act would mandate that the FCC “require a provider of voice service to implement the STIR/SHAKEN authentication framework in internet protocol networks of voice service providers.” 


Given that the TRACED Act and its consumer group proponents continue to lump legitimate calls (like fraud alerts and account notifications) with scam calls under one big “robocall” umbrella, it is encouraging that mobile carriers are taking the initiative to use available technological tools to distinguish between these drastically different categories of calls.  It remains to be seen how effective these tools will be in siphoning out spam or scam calls while allowing important contacts from legitimate businesses. The introduction of a “censor” between American business and their customers is hardly a welcome development for some, but if properly deployed these tools might afford real promise in the fight against robocalls while yet affording needed protections and transparency for legitimate callers.  Indeed, the more these capabilities are put into practice and lead to decreases in unwanted calls to consumers, Congress may be under less pressure to enact ill-conceived legislation that would subject legitimate businesses to more lawsuits and enforcement actions.

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