AT&T Expands Anti-Robocall Protections to Smartphones; Landline Users Out of Luck

Maureen Mahoney
Public Policy Fellow

Monday, February 13th, 2017

A number of AT&T smartphone customers got a pleasant surprise just in time for New Year’s Day. At the end of December, AT&T announced a new app to block robocalls at no extra charge. But there’s a catch – it’s compatible only with about 20 phone models, including the iPhone 7 and the Samsung Galaxy S7. If you have a different model, a basic cell phone, or a landline – well, sorry to say, you’re out of luck.

We’re pleased that AT&T is offering enhanced protection to many of its smartphone customers. Still, more needs to be done to protect landline users who report endless calls starting early in the morning through late at night that interrupt both work and sleep. (Click here for the options that are available for AT&T home phone users). For the past two years, Consumers Union’s End Robocalls campaign has been pushing AT&T and other top phone service providers  to offer free, advanced robocall blocking tools for all of its customers.

AT&T’s new service, Call Protect, can “detect and block” calls from suspected scammers. A list of blocked numbers will show up in your call history so you can check to make sure you aren’t missing any important calls. The app will also flag, but not block, suspected spam calls – for example, from politicians or debt collectors. You can also put an unlimited amount of numbers on your own personal block list, although you will have to renew those numbers after 30 days.

AT&T joins several other companies in taking steps toward improving anti-robocall tools to consumers. Recently, Verizon made it easier for its Fios customers to sign up for the free anti-robocall service Nomorobo by offering a link right in the customer’s online account. Sprint released an app for customers with HTC Bolt handsets that identifies – but doesn’t block – unwanted robocalls. The service is $3 a month. And Apple recently pushed out an update that makes iPhones compatible with third-party call-blocking apps, which had previously been available only to Android smartphones. 

We appreciate the progress being made in the war against robocalls. But phone companies still have a long way to go to fully protect consumers from harm. These companies currently have the capability to offer across-the-board robocall protection to all of their customers. The time is long overdue for sweeping measures to be implemented that provide a strong line of defense so that their customers are no longer hassled and scammed by robocalls.

All eyes are on AT&T to take the lead. AT&T’s Randall Stephenson is the head of the Robocall Strike Force, which was formed at the request of former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to quickly deploy free robocall-blocking tools. There’s no definitive word yet from the FCC on whether the Strike Force will continue under new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

Have you tried Call Protect? We want to hear from you. Tell us what you think!

Update: Consumers Union recommends that consumers closely evaluate what kind of information they’re willing to disclose to prevent robocalls, so review the privacy policy before signing up for any call-blocking app or service.

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