Proposed solution: Provide a smartphone app for common platforms (iPhone, Android, Windows Phone) that accesses the user's incoming call history to allow the user to quickly and easily report a robo-calling number to the FCC, without requiring the user to write down the robo-calling number, find and load the FCC's existing reporting web page ( https://esupport.fcc.gov/ccmsforms/form1088!createConsumer.action ), and perform substantial, tedious, and error-prone data entry.

This solution does not include provisions to automatically block robo-calls, but merely facilitates the process of reporting them to the FCC. As such, the benefits are that there is no dependency on cellular, landline, or VoIP telephony operators to deploy any changes to their infrastructure. The benefit comes from increasing the rate of robo-call reports to the FCC, and depends on the FCC pursuing its procedures of punishing robo-callers, with the long-term result being fewer robo-calls in general for everyone regardless of whether they are cellular, landline, or VoIP telephony users.

The steps in the typical use case of the Robo-Call Reporter app upon the user receiving a robo-call on his smartphone:

  1. User receive a robo-call.
  2. User hangs up.
  3. User launches Robo-Call Reporter app.
  4. User chooses the robo-call number from the incoming call history, which the app displays. Because the recent call history is shown, it is still possible to report a robo-call even if the user has received another, legitimate, call since the robo-call.
  5. The Robo-Call Reporter app automatically loads the FCC web page for reporting robo-calls (https://esupport.fcc.gov/ccmsforms/form1088!createConsumer.action) and pre-populates it with as much data as possible (most of this is about the user who is doing the reporting). The user only has to enter the information about himself on first use of the app. That information is retained by the app and pre-populated for the user automatically on subsequent uses.
  6. The user clicks to goes to the next page where the actual robo-calling number is entered. The app populates this field with the number the user selected in step 4.
  7. The FCC adds this number to the list of robo-callers and follows the FCC's established procedure for punishing robo-callers.

Disadvantages:

  1. Does not immediately block robo-calls. Simply facilitates reporting of them, but by doing so greatly increases the reporting rate.
  2. The app is only usable by victims who have been robo-called on their smartphones (iPhone, Android, Windows Phone). This app does not faciliate reporting for landline users, or users of VoIP telephony providers such as Vonage.

Advantages:

  1. Increases the likelihood that victims actually report robo-calls.
  2. Facilitates reporting robo-calls immediately, rather than depending on user going to a web page from a conventional computer later and correctly entering the robo-calling phone number.

Assumptions:

  1. Assumes that a smartphone app has the ability to read the user's recent incoming call history, to retrieve the robo-calling phone number. For iPhone, this data is contained in the file /var/mobile/Library/CallHistory/call_history.db or /private/var/root/Library/CallHistory/call_history.db This seems to be possible because iOS apps such as this appear to be doing it: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/callog/id327883585?mt=8 Information about programatically reading the call history is available here: http://iosstuff.wordpress.com/2011/08/19/accessing-iphone-call-history/ Android does appear to expose the call log to app developers. Windows phone does not.

Possible enhancements:

  1. FCC could augment their reporting web interface to include a web-based service that would only be used by this app, rather than requiring the app to use the existing reporting web page, which is designed for a user of a conventional desktop or laptop PC. This proposed new web-based service would accept an XML-formatted file submitted as the body of an HTTP POST method request. This ensures that any potential future changes to the current reporting web page will not break the app's ability to submit reports of robo-calling numbers.
  2. Google Voice could be enhanced to include a button at the top of the desktop/laptop web interface (from which users can view recent calls and listen to voice mails) allowing the user to click on a new button labelled 'Report robo-call', which would connect to the FCC web site and report the robo-call. This is conceptually similar to the 'Spam' button that appears above e-mails (next to buttons labeled 'Reply', 'Forward', and 'Delete'). Expanding the base of support for this easy reporting to Google Voice will incrementally improve reporting rates.
  3. Other VoIP telephony providers (e.g. Vonage, Comcast, U-Verse) can similarly enhance their desktop/laptop web interfaces to facilitate easy reporting.

Future steps:

  1. FCC contracts with an app developer (for example, Jason Musser) to implement the Robo-Call Reporter smartphone app, for iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone.
  2. FCC may need to reach out to smartphone OEMs/SDK providers to ensure that this app has permission to read the incoming call history, and to ensure that when submitted for publication via the appropriate app store, the app is accepted and published. The particular app store may choose to forbid publication o other apps that access the incoming call history, but allow this one app.
  3. FCC implements the alternate web-based service for app to report to, rather than requiring the app to use the same reporting web page that currently exists and is designed primarily for manual data entry by the robo-call recipient.
  4. FCC reaches out to Google Voice team and VoIP telephony providers such as Vonage and encourages them to implement 'Report robo-call' buttons on their desktop/laptop interfaces. They would also be encouraged to implement this in smartphone apps that those VoIP telephony operators provide currently (and which their users often use to view the list of their voicemails and to listen to voicemails.
  5. FCC may reach out to smartphone OEMs to encourage them to make a longer-term platform change to implement a 'Report robo-call' button into the user interface that displays the incoming call log, eliminating the need for a separate Robo-Call Reporter app entirely.
  6. A product could be developed similiar to cellular data network Content Filtering solutions like the open-source solution DansGuardian. This content filtering solution can be configured with frequently-updated lists of URLs or URL regular expressions to detect when a cellular data user is attempting to access a web site that should be blocked (e.g. because the site contains adult content and the user is using a SIM or cellular account that was marketed for use by children). RuleSpace is a company that also offers a product designed for web page categorization, which is often deployed for the purpose of Content Filtering. Similar to how these solutions can be configured with a list of URLs to be blocked, a robo-call blocking product could be created which would operate based on an FCC-provided list of known, verified, robo-calling numbers. This product would be deployed in cellular, landline, and VoIP telephony providers' networks and would refuse to connect calls originating from numbers on these lists. Provisions would have to be made such that individuals and businesses whose telephone numbers were spoofed by robo-callers could contest their inclusion on the list of known robo-calling numbers. Ideally, these legitimate numbers would be vetted by the FCC and would not ever incorrectly make it onto the list of robo-calling numbers, but it is possible that some might slip through and need to be removed through an established, quick procedure, and that propagation of the updated list of robo-calling number occurs quickly and automatically.
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