iPhone Call Blocking & Identification

Apple has added a new category of application to its AppStore that allows the user to block incoming calls. The first one of these that I tried was called Nomorobo, as in “no more robodialers”. It worked pretty well. They have an existing online web site where you can pay for a subscription or you could pay for the subscription right in the app. I let my subscription lapse because of a general Internet service subscription fatigue and not for any fault in the product. After a few months I stumbled onto a new crop of these apps that didn’t charge a monthly fee. I know they are not free. They must be mining the caller ID data and find value there. Since I rarely use my phone, it seems like a fair trade. I downloaded a couple new trials, Hiya and Mr. Number. So far I’ve only tried Hiya. Now AT&T has a new app they call Call Protect that features the Hiya logo but does not appear in the Settings app.

Using these apps is really simple. You download one from the App Store. Then navigate to “iPhone Call Blocking & Identification” setting under “Phone”. Turn on the apps that you want to allow to see all your incoming calls. Yahoo! and LinkedIn (Microsoft) are also listed but no way I’m letting them have any more access to my personal data. If AT&T and Hiya are in bed together I figure they already have my call history.

When the phone rings, the app is supposed to look it up in their database to see if it is spam. With Nomorobo, the spam call would just be rejected and go straight to voicemail. With Hiya, the phone still rings but with a message like “Scam or Fraud” or “Telemarketer” along with a little warning icon. Not all the messages are bad. I received a call from my Alumni Association’s call center. The ones that are really nasty are now spoofing the caller ID to match first 6 digits of your phone number. This is supposed to trick you into thinking the call is from a neighbor. In these cases Nomorobo wisely does not block them but displays a warning that the caller ID might be forged.

Of the two that I have tried, Nomorobo’s solution is more elegant because the phone never rings. There is the potential of a false positive but hopefully that caller will leave a message. I don’t think I had a true false positives. My Alumni Association call center originally queried as Telemarketing which is accurate. The more specific label was updated later. This is a community fed system so early reports could have been unnecessarily harsh. I’m glad to see come curation corrected the assessment.

I plan to stay with Hiya and recommend it to those who want this service but may be a bit subscription sensitive at this time. Hiya also has a lookup function. Inside the application is an Identify button. You can type in a number or use the contents of your clipboard. It will give you reverse lookup with name and city, along with community reports of spamming, if any.

The ultimate solution is to change the phone system such that individual subscribers cannot forge caller ID. Seems like a pretty basic principal. If you’re going to call me, you had better properly identify yourself. This would require some reworking of the phone network which was never designed to be secure. My assumption is that this will never get legally mandated because politicians are such big spammers. I’m hoping that apps like these put a small dent in the universe.

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