The Slatest

Major U.S. Phone Companies Agree to Plan to Combat Endless Robocalls

A worker assembles mobile phones at an Indian Lava phone manufacturer factory in Noida on August 22, 2019.
Is our long national nightmare almost over? Sajjad Hussain/Getty Images

America’s biggest telecom providers announced Thursday they would adopt new technology to save consumers from the barrage of robocalls that these days routinely clog Americans’ phones. Last month alone, Americans received an estimated 4.7 billion illegal spam calls. The agreement between 12 of the country’s largest providers—including Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint—and 51 attorneys general commits the companies to better call labeling and blocking at no extra charge, in order to combat spammers who are able to make calls look like they’re from a local number.*

“Under the agreement, the 12 carriers have agreed to implement call-blocking technology, make anti-robocall tools available for free to consumers and deploy a new system that would label calls as real or spam. Known by its acronym, STIR/SHAKEN, the technology takes aim at a practice known as spoofing, where fraudsters mask their identities by using phone numbers that resemble those that they’re trying to contact in a bid to get victims to pick up and surrender their personal information,” the Washington Post reports. “This June, state and federal authorities announced 94 enforcement actions against illegal robocallers that allegedly placed an estimated 1 billion robocalls to consumers, a move they said signaled their heightened interest in combating such scams. Some of the calls sought to deceive people into paying fees or surrendering their personal information for fraudulent services, such as lowering their credit card interest rates or providing help with health insurance.”

“The agreement does not provide a deadline for the companies to complete the integration of call-verifying technology, but it does cover the full range of service providers, from cable landlines to mobile communications to Voice over Internet Protocol companies. For the services to work best, it’s crucial that both ends of a call be verified, and that requires different kinds of providers to take part,” the New York Times reports. “The carriers will also be tasked with analyzing and monitoring network traffic to try to identify and monitor patterns consistent with robocalls—and then investigate suspicious activity, which will help attorneys general identify and prosecute illegal robocallers.”

Correction, Aug. 26, 2019: This post originally misstated that 51 state attorneys general participated in the agreement.