In the News

Here’s Why You’re Still Stuck in Robocall Hell

Jun 17, 2022 Wired

Despite major progress fighting spam and scams, the roots of the problem go far deeper than your phone company’s defenses.

THERE’S A GOOD reason you’re still afraid to answer your phone when an unknown number pops up.

For years, the telecommunications industry has been trying to curb robocalls, the frustrating and potentially dangerous spam calls that try to scam anyone who picks up the phone. But even after significant milestones in defense—including the introduction of two telecom protocols that cryptographically authenticate the source of calls—you’re probably still getting spammy calls that drive you nuts. In spite of the setbacks, though, researchers say they’ve seen real progress on reducing spam calls in the United States, and there’s potential for even more improvement.

At the RSA Conference in San Francisco last week, Josh Bercu of the trade association USTelecom and Gary Warner, director of intelligence at the security firm DarkTower, presented findings on progress squashing robocalls and the illegal call centers they emanate from, which are predominantly located in India. And they dug into the frustrating reality that the issue is far from solved.

“I think it’s not going well at all!” Warner tells WIRED. “And people understandably wonder why the carriers don’t just block spam calls. But if you’re AT&T or Verizon or T-Mobile or whoever, it’s not in your purview to decide which conversations people are allowed to have. I don’t think people want to be in that surveillance state where carriers are in a position of deciding what is an acceptable conversation for Americans to have.”

That doesn’t mean the carriers haven’t stepped up their blocking when they see enough evidence that a call has a suspicious provenance. But USTelecom’s Bercu notes that deciding how bold to be about blocking is a delicate issue that each phone company handles differently…