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Globally blocking unwanted calls

By Greg Mills

Leave it to the unscrupulous to screw up a good thing. Shortly after the invention of email, spam rose from the dark side of the force and tempered the satisfaction and utility of the miracle of electronic mail.  

Most people get more spam these days than they do “good” email. For most of us, eliminating spam would require changing email addresses, which would also make it harder for people to contact you (those folks you want to contact you). Congress has made it illegal to send spam; how has that worked out for you?

My old fart rant of the day, is the telephone equivalent of spam, junk phone calls. I have had my cell phone number for long enough that everyone I know has its number; it would be very inconvenient to change it. To get everyone to get used to a new phone number would a hardship for them and for me. 

Clearly, the solution isn’t changing phone numbers; it’s in electronic management of cellular telephony that an ideal fix is to be had. There are few, if any apps or other solutions, that adequately cut the volume of unsolicited and unwanted phone calls coming in. 

The main problem is that people foolishly buy things from telephone solicitors. If no one would ever do business with companies that make the sales calls, there wouldn’t be a problem. Don’t every buy anything from telephone solicitors! I have a firm policy that I won’t buy from spammers or unsolicited telephone salesmen, under any circumstances. How many fools have lost money to Nigerian bank fraud artists by not following my rule of not doing business with spammers? 

Then there’s the notion of “white listing”: you limit incoming calls to only those numbers that you pre-approve. This is flawed, since someone you want to hear from might call you from a different and unknown number and be blocked.  

“Black listing” or creating a list of know abused phone numbers is helpful, but not effective. The ability to personally block incoming junk call numbers every time you get such a call is overcome by solicitation companies constantly churning phone numbers and evading your efforts since you can’t block them all.

iOS has a personal blacklisting feature that manually blocks further calls from a recent incoming number. This feature works for each offending number, but fails to stop all other numbers you haven’t yet blocked. Some apps try to amass a large database of known junk call numbers. 

I think the blacklisting feature of the iOS has interesting potential. Apple could roll out a powerful solution to the problem if they were willing to do it.  

Imagine having a block number option and block number & report option. The first option would be to block an annoying neighbor you no longer want to talk with,  and the second number would be to block and report the aluminum awning company that won’t take no for an answer.

The idea is that if my block and report call list was automatically uploaded periodically to AT&T as known junk commercial numbers for them to potentially  block, my effort to block those numbers personally would be useful for everyone else who carries an AT&T cell phone   

Then the crowd source data effect comes into play.  Imagine everyone with an iPhone who blocks incoming sales calls had their blocked number list uploaded to the carrier, as well. AT&T’s computer machine learning would quickly develop a clean list of confirmed junk call numbers which could be globally blocked for all AT&T customers who want that blocking service. This could be done inexpensively and rolled out reasonably quickly.

A further fix would require federal legislation — or at least a FCC mandate — to force all cellular services to create the electronic infrastructure to carry out the method I propose. If there was a legally mandated $1 fine for each unsolicited call, to be billed back to the offending telephone line account, the effect would be dramatic.  

The cost of implementing this method would be end up being paid for by charging the owner of the blocked number a dollar. Lines being quickly blocked and gigantic phone bills generated would shut down the entire telephone solicitation industry overnight.  

In the meantime, the low tech solution that makes the constant interruptions in my life bearable is to have a loud, cheapo whistle by my desk, bed, living room and in my car. Wal-Mart sells bags of 12 for a couple of bucks.  

As soon as an unsolicited phone call gets through to the human salesman, I blow the whistle loudly and repeatedly until they hang up. Then I manually block the number on my iPhone. I have gotten eight junk calls in a row since yesterday afternoon. When I use my whistle, my dog thinks I want her to come and my wife objects that I startle and frighten her. But, hey, old farts have to have fun any way they can!  

That is Greg’s Bite out of the telephone solicitor’s hide for today.

Dennis Sellers
the authorDennis Sellers
Dennis Sellers is the editor/publisher of Apple World Today. He’s been an “Apple journalist” since 1995 (starting with the first big Apple news site, MacCentral). He loves to read, run, play sports, and watch movies.