Industry Experts Call For Improved Spam Tags on Incorrectly Labelled Phone Numbers

Industry experts argue that more caller information should be added onto calls tagged as spam.

Industry Experts Call For Improved Spam Tags on Incorrectly Labelled Phone Numbers
Photo of Glenn Richards from Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman

NEW YORK, December 12, 2023 –  Spam caller notifications should still include the information of the caller to ensure that important calls are not missed, according to industry players.

Illegal robocalls are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission through a framework called STIR/SHAKEN, which requires service providers to authenticate calls before they reach a consumer to combat spam and scam calls.

Ron Thorton, consulting engineer at IT service company United Office, said at the VON Evolution conference last month that calls are often determined to be spam by third party analytics companies based on calling patterns, such as the number of and duration of those calls to decide if a number presents as spam.

A problem with tagging those calls as spam is that any previous caller identification an individual receives is replaced with a warning label which deters them from picking up the phone and nothing else, said Thorton.

Those calls, unfortunately, could include ones originating from the doctor’s office or a bank because they have persistent calling patterns that could be labeled as spam.

Concern about users missing important calls that become tagged as spam has been brought forth in the past by industry experts who felt that intermediate phone operators determining whether or not a call is fit to go through, was problematic.

“You aren’t giving me all of the information to make my own judgment on this call because you’re basically telling me to ignore it,” added Thornton.

Jeff Pulver, the founder of VON Evolution, said that this kind of problem erodes the trust people have in the phone calls they get.

To put autonomy back into consumers hands, Thornton said that going forward, terminating carriers should not entirely replace the caller identification that people receive.

Thornton explained that terminating carriers should then not be allowed to replace the name of a caller. “If you’re going to put out a potential spam tag…you’ve got to include any name that you can potentially access.”

He added that this kind of oversight may have to come directly from the FCC in the form of caller label regulatory guidelines and should be prompted by complaints from users receiving incorrect calls.

The caveat he added was that oftentimes the sheer number of trusted callers who are tagged as spam is not properly recorded because people are not picking up those calls in the first place.

Thornton said that those “calls aren’t picked up so nobody knows the reason it wasn’t picked up is because it was tagged as potential spam.”

To remedy that gap in spam caller information, there needs to be a kind of feedback loop from the terminating provider to the originating provider so that when trusted calls are tagged as spam, people are made aware of it.

Glenn Richards, partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, who spoke at the VON event, previously told Broadband Breakfast that the responsibility of blocking spam calls belongs to the originating service provider and that they should be subject to enforcement.

At VON, Richards explained that when it comes to robocall enforcement, there is a fine line between stopping fraudulent calls and stopping legitimate calls that need to be answered – a line industry experts were trying to parse out at the event.

More recently, government figureheads have been calling on the FCC to better their enforcement of robocalls by putting money into enforcement offices or more stringent robocall investigations.

At its November meeting, the FCC voted to start implementing the use of AI to be able to better detect robocalls and, in October, issued enforcement orders and blocked traffic from nearly 20 providers for having lax robocall regulations.

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