An annoyance at best and a costly scam at worst, robocalls have tied up American phone lines for decades.And as the modern technology behind the calls has grown, so have the efforts to stop them, but some say that presented new regulations are pursuing after the false culprits.Robocalls today are considered still different from their counterparts 15 or 20 years ago. Auto-dialing calls and protecting caller ID information was very costly and confusing in the days of traditional copper-wire telephone service. Meaning those calls often were the work of big companies, rather than individual scammers. Placing calls overseas was especially costly.We’re going to robocalling, the subject of an episode last February. Many readers later e-mailed to ask why technology had not long ago put robocallers out of business. As it happens, the Federal Trade Commission has been contemplating that very query, and last year it begun a competition, inviting citizens to provide ideas about how this perpetual annoyance could be finished.
On April 2, the commission declared two winners, who each pocketed $25,000. Hence to the F.T.C. news announce, the two solutions, “focus on intercepting and filtering out illegal prerecorded calls using technology to ‘blacklist’ robocaller phone numbers and ‘whitelist’ numbers associated with acceptable incoming calls.”Brad Herrmann, president and founder of Call-Em-All says they won’t work, a robocalling company in Frisco, Tex. Call-Em-All is a authorize robocall company and, yes, there is such a thing. It is hired, for instance, by businesses, like delivery services that want to convey customers about delays. Or by school districts that want to instantly alert families about snow days.The difficulty with the two winners is a service called Nomorobo and the inelegantly named Robocall Filtering System and Device With Autonomous Blacklisting, Whitelisting, GrayListing and Caller ID Spoof Detection is that they both confide heavily on caller ID. Which makes both concept weak to spoofing, an industry word that translates to “fooling your caller ID.” Mr. Herrmann said that every robocaller, legal or not, they plug in what number a call is coming from and what number a call is going to.
“Whatever number that a robocaller would like to appear on your caller ID will appear on your caller ID. I could launch a call to your home phone right now and make it look like it came from your cellphone.” So if a specific incoming number winds up on a blacklist, no problem. There are millions of phone numbers, and a robocaller doesn’t really need to “own” them to show to be calling from them. Mr. Herrmann said that he could criticize specifically on the system with the long name, as the F.T.C.’s Web site posted little about it, so he focused on the Nomorobo system, which could be called anti-spoofing plus. The plus part is this. Every call is split, heading to both your phone and a Nomorobo filter that analyzes the call and determines whether it is from an unauthorize robocaller. If the filter gives the call a thumbs up, your phone will ring. If thumbs down, the filter will hang up. Mr. Herrmann describes it as conceptualy a wonderful idea. But it’s like telling that you’re going to rectify famine by making sure everyone has food. Yes. Easy to say, all but very impossible to do. Once a number winds up on a blacklist, robocallers will just use another number, Mr. Herrmann says. And any robocalled number that winds up on a whitelist, like we say, for a school system coping with a snow day will quickly be scooped up and used by illegal robocallers.
Aaron Foss, 34 yrs.old, the creator of Nomorobo’s, and software developer who is more positive that the system can ascert bad actors further upstream than caller ID, though he acknowledged that this element is in the “proof of concept” phase. He added that Nomorobo could suss out the widespread use of a single outgoing number and quickly flag it as spam. Ideal answers to robocalling are deceptive because of the telephony infrastructure, which was made for analog calls over copper wire. It was inducted long before there was a World Wide Web and before there was robocalling. The infrastructure deficits the smarts to know the actual source of a call, like an Internet Protocol address.Mr. Herrmann said that nobody has the resourceful motivation to yank out that infrastructure. So probably, illegal robocallers will stay and will be sticking around. Like common colds, and those earnestly annoying people who get in line to board planes before it’s their turn, we’re just going to have to live and deal with them.