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Apple, Google, AT&T Launch New Anti-Robocalling ‘Strike Force’

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Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler speaks during a FCC hearing on net neutrality.Photograph by Mandel Ngan — AFP/Getty Images

A powerful group of technology and telecommunications giants, including AT&T, Apple and Comcast, are forming a new group to try to end the scourge of unwanted, automated marketing calls.

The anti-robocalling “strike force” says it will develop technological solutions but will also need government assistance to truly deal with the noxious calling problem.

“In parallel with technological solutions, we need our regulatory and law enforcement agencies to go after the bad actors,” AT&T (T) CEO Randall Stephenson wrote on a blog post about the new group on Friday. “Shutting down the bad guys is a necessary step, and a powerful example to others.”

Technological solutions could include new standards for caller ID to prevent marketers from using fake numbers, adding new call-blocking techniques to telecom networks and possibly developing a new “Do Not Originate” list that would focus on blocking calls from known bad actors, among other proposals, Stephenson said. The group plans to report back to the FCC in two months.

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The new group formed a month after Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler wrote to the industry and asked them to start providing call-blocking services for free immediately. The FCC is already considering a rules proposal to place further limits on robocalls, he said.

“We will tackle robocalls on as many fronts as possible, whether by implementing new rules, issuing tailored declaratory judgments, encouraging new pro-consumer innovation or urging the private sector to step up and stop this scourge,” Wheeler wrote.

 

 

Representatives of the industry group planned to meet with FCC officials in Washington on Friday.

Consumer advocacy groups, who have been calling for industry action for years, welcomed the new effort. “The plan unveiled by the Strike Force today represents an important initial victory for consumers and a sign that the phone companies are taking more serious steps to protect their customers from unwanted calls,” Tim Marvin, who runs the anti-robocalling campaign at Consumers Union, said in a statement. “We’ll be monitoring the work of the Strike Force closely in the next 60 days to make sure they deliver on these promises.”

The decade-old federal Do Not Call list was meant to block unwanted marketing calls, but the system has suffered from too many loopholes and weak enforcement, making it an utter failure in protecting consumers. While people have added 222 million phone numbers to the list to block junk calls, the Federal Trade Commission received nearly 3.6 million complaints about possible violations last year.

The problem is only getting worse, as Congress added a new loophole last year exempting calls to wireless phones about unpaid federal debts like student loans from anti-robocalling laws.

The new strike force includes all four major wireless carriers, other carriers such as CenturyLink (CTL) , British Telecom, and Frontier Communications (FTR) , along with top tech companies such as Apple (AAPL), Microsoft @msft(MSFT), Samsung and Alphabet’s (GOOGL) Google.