AT&T's in-house system blocks 1 billionth robocall

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AT&T's fraud management team partnered with its big-data scientists to detect “patterns that indicate robocallers” such as multiple, short-duration calls to numbers on the National Do Not Call List.

AT&T said it has blocked its billionth robocall using a new program that detects unwanted calls through network data analysis. And unlike some other companies, it created its own system to do it.

The nation’s second-largest mobile network operator said its fraud management team partnered with its big-data scientists on the effort, which examines more than 1.5 billion calls each day to detect “patterns that indicate robocallers” such as multiple, short-duration calls to numbers on the National Do Not Call List. A preliminary list of suspected robocallers is created, then further research is done to avoid suspending legitimate automated calls such as those conducted by school districts and other organizations.

The service complements AT&T Call Protect, which launched late last year as both wireless and wireline operators face increased pressure from federal regulators to help their customers avoid spam calls, robocalls and other unwanted come-ons. Potential legislation includes the proposed ROBOCOP Act, which would require telecoms to offer free, optional robocall-blocking technology to their customers. Outgoing FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler backed the act in July, sending letters to the CEOs of AT&T, Verizon and other major carriers calling on them to offer call-blocking services to customers at no charge.

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The FCC voted last month to move forward with new rules designed to prevent spammers from placing unwanted robocalls. Among other elements, the proposed rules would also allow carriers to continue to block calls upon the request of the subscriber to an originating number, like IRS lines not used for outbound calls.

Other service providers and handset manufacturers have made similar moves to protect their customers from robocalls, but those strategies often involve leveraging third-party solutions. T-Mobile’s new Scam ID and Scam Block, for instance, use PrivacyStar’s database of scammer numbers to identify unwanted calls, and Hiya scored a deal last year to preload its robocall-blocking app on Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7.

Hiya also powers AT&T Call Protect.

Rather than requiring users to download an app to block incoming calls, AT&T's new offering prevents unwanted calls from being made in the first place.

“Our data science team took on a challenge to analyze and address the problem,” said Jenifer Robertson, AT&T’s senior vice president for technology strategy, in a press release this morning. “We knew the winners would be our customers.”

This story was edited April 13 to clarify that AT&T Call Protect is a separate service from the new offering and is powered by Hiya.

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