You're relaxing after a hard day at work, or just getting ready to cut into a juicy steak at dinner. All seems right with the world, just for a moment. Then the phone rings, disturbing your bliss with yet another recorded spiel for some shady deal. You slam the phone off, and return to your life while muttering vague obscenities. Nomorobo now offers a transparent system for reliably blocking such robocalls, that is far more effective than Do-Not-Call lists. Best of all, the service is free.
The scourge of robocalls disrupting the smooth flow of life occurs for most of us at an unacceptable level. In 2004, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) instituted a Do-Not-Call list intended to prevent unsolicited calls from pitchmen, while FCC regulations also forbade such calls to cell phones. These measures proved ineffective, largely owing to spoofing techniques and a lack of enforcement (The FTC receives nearly 200,000 complaints per month about robocalls). I receive several robocalls each day, which always seem to occur at the least convenient moments of life.
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Earlier this year, the FTC held a contest for potential solutions to the problem of robocalling. One of the two co-winners was an inventor named Arron Foss, whose previous inventions include a dipping bowl for buffalo wings and a cancer treatment tool for children. His solution to the robocalling problem is Nomorobo (a portmanteau for "no more robocalls").
Nomorobo is a verbal relative of the CAPTCHA system used to verify that the user of a website is not a robot. You ask your phone service to set up Simultaneous Calling service (free with Vonage phone service and others). Once this is done, any call to your phone will ring first at Nomorobo's servers.
Nomorobo first compares caller ID information against a continuously-updated blacklist. If the number appears there, the call is immediately blocked. Next, the recent activity on the calling phone is analyzed. If the calling phone is too active, or is calling blocks of phone numbers sequentially, the call is identified as a potential robocall.
A potential robocall is answered by the Nomorobo servers (yes, with a robotic voice). The caller is asked to type a number on their phone dial. Presumably, a human will do so, while a robot (for now) will not. If the proper response is made, then the call is allowed to pass through to your phone.
At present, Nomorobo blocks over a million robocalling numbers (out of perhaps half a billion currently assigned phone numbers), these having been collected by the FTC and other entities concerned with robocalling ravages. A number of beta testers have been using the service in stealth mode over the past few months, finding that about 80 percent of illegal robocalls are successfully blocked by Nomorobo. This proportion is improving with time.
How does Foss intend to make money with a free service? At present he has a small amount of angel funding that is supporting the roll-out of the service. As time goes by, he will be selling the service to businesses, which take real losses when their employees burn time, require more phone lines, and lose focus when answering robocalls. Eventually, he wants to offer value-added services, such as blocking robotic political calls, which are technically legal, but as annoying as marketing robocalls. I can hardly wait!
The video below provides a basic introduction to the system.