Verizon Adds Free Robocall Blocking App for Wireless Customers, Two Years After AT&T, T-Mobile

Verizon wireless subscribers will finally get a free robocall-blocking app, two years after the competition launched similar services. The Verizon app, with additional call screening options and enhanced Caller ID to alert of potential spam calls, will launch in March. Competitors (T) AT&T and T-Mobile (TMUS) rolled out similar app-based controls for call blocking and alerts two years ago. Verizon, which currently charges subscribers $3 a month for robocall-blocking and more, announced the app Jan. 17.

Billions of automated calls, or “robocalls,” are made to U.S. phone lines annually, making for angry customers and federal actions. In just one case in 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sued two operations that the agency alleged were responsible for nearly 900 million robocalls a year.

(VZ) Verizon’s existing tool, similar to AT&T and T-Mobile’s free offerings, relies on a variety of call-network based information to “score” a call and assign it a probability of being spam. If the score is above the threshold, the service replaces the Caller ID number or ID with “spam.” Other carriers use a similar technique, labeling a call “Likely spam,” “Telemarketer,” and “Scam likely.” These apps also offer blocking tools, in some cases stopping categories of calls from passing through a filter. Sprint continues to charge for its spam-alert system.

Carriers already engage in large-scale efforts behind the scenes to prevent spam and scam calls from reaching customers—surprising, given the number that do make it through. The Caller ID system doesn’t currently require any sort of authentication, and it’s easy for scammers to push any number they choose to phone displays.

Verizon and the rest of the industry are in the early stages of rolling out an authentication system that may deter robocalling, because it would clearly identify incoming calls swap out the number from which they are placed.

Third-party apps can fill a similar notification need, such as Hiya and Nomorobo, although some charge recurring fees or have a mix of free and premium tier products. These apps only trigger as a call reaches a phone, while carriers can use network-based intelligence to tag or block a call before it rings a customer. (Carriers license technology and calling database from some of these firms.)

Customers with a wired line, whether via fiber service or copper, already received a free robocall-update in April 2018, which added “SPAM?” in Caller ID messages for messages that crossed the suspect threshold. Verizon said it alerted customers to a billion sketchy calls since.

Robocalls can be used for legal and legitimate purposes that fall into a few categories, such as purely informational, where a school, business, or medical practice leaves an automated alert, or for political messages, which are protected by the First Amendment. That covers a small subset of all robocalls, however.

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