In the News

There Is No Escape From America’s Robocall Hell

Oct 4, 2021 Vice

A new FCC proposal may help, but lobbying and recent court rulings mean the robocall menace isn’t going away anytime soon.

Every single day Americans receive more than 131 million annoying robocalls, or roughly 5.5 million robocalls an hour. And while a new FCC proposal takes helpful aim at the obnoxious menace, recent Supreme Court rulings, corporate lobbying, and the complexity of the problem means it’s not getting significantly better anytime soon.

The FCC this week unveiled its latest attempt to address the robocall scourge after a parade of past agency efforts failed to make a dent in the problem. 

New FCC rules mean phone companies must block traffic from phone companies that fail to implement cryptography-based identity authentication systems like STIR (Secure Telephone Identity Revisited) and SHAKEN (Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs). Such systems help thwart robocallers hiding their identities and real numbers using spoofing technology. 

The new FCC announcement proposes expanding those restrictions to “gateway providers” that link overseas callers to U.S. phone networks, and requires phone companies to document their robocall-fighting efforts via the FCC’s Robocall Mitigation Database. But it’s just a drop in the bucket of addressing the broader problem, experts say.

“The plan as-is consists of good ideas, but I don’t think it’s going to make a big difference in the next couple of years,” Brad Reaves, an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at NC State University told Motherboard.

The proposal is just a proposal for now, and “gateway providers” still aren’t covered by existing rules. Neither are smaller providers with less than 100,000 customers, who’ve been exempted from the rules until 2023. “These two types are the providers that most in the industry believe are serving the robocallers,” he said.

But our failure to police robocalls goes beyond the technical. And it stems from our failure to understand the problem is far bigger than just bogus car warranty scams…