AT&T launches service to help users block unwanted calls

AT&T launched a service to help customers with HD Voice-enabled smartphones block unwanted calls.

AT&T Call Protect is a free, network-based app that provides automatic fraud blocking and warnings of suspected spam calls through the carrier’s myAT&T offering. The service also lets users block calls from specific numbers for up to 30 days at a time, although it doesn’t support blocking of unknown numbers.

“Nuisance calls are an industry-wide problem that unfortunately affect many people,” said Jeff Bradley, an AT&T senior vice president, in a press announcement. “We’ve listened to our customers and know they want a network that provides tools to proactively assist in blocking nuisance calls.”

The product launch comes 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-blacking services to customers at no charge.

While the prospects for such efforts are murky given the ongoing transition from the Obama administration to a Trump White House, U.S. tech firms have responded. AT&T, Apple, Google and others voiced their support for the FCC’s move in August, joining the agency’s “Robocall Strike Force” at a meeting in Washington.

Such moves have spawned a flurry of activity from companies looking to help carriers provide solutions to their customers. First Orion, which maintains a flagship app called PrivacyStar for both service providers and end users, released a study in September claiming more than 4% of U.S. mobile users said they had given away credit card information to a scammer on their phones, twice as many as reported doing so last year. Rival Hiya, a Whitepages spinoff, launched a cloud-based call-blocking solution in August aimed at addressing those same concerns.

Both Hiya and First Orion maintain their own databases, enabling them to identify callers based on reports from previous users in an effort to block them.