Apple patent could kill robocalls

If you think you're fed up with getting robocalls, Apple is taking it to another level.

A new software patent from the Cupertino, Calif.-based tech giant could help kill robocalls and scams, letting users automatically recognize "a spoofing caller."

The patent, filed in April 2017, was made public on Thursday and describes a system that would let the phone do checks on a call to see whether the call is legitimate or if it is from a "spoofed number."


"The mobile device checks parameters using templates to evaluate a consistency of the invitation with respect to a database in the mobile device," the abstract of the patent reads. "The templates include session protocol, network topology, routing, and social templates."

The patent further goes into detail what a "spoofed call" is, essentially a spam call.

"An example of a spoofed message is one in which a person with bad intentions, a 'spoofing caller,' or a machine under the control of the spoofing caller, pushes forward a financial scam by inserting a caller ID value in the message that the called party will trust," the patent reads.

It continues: "For example, the caller ID value may be associated with law enforcement, an electric company or with a family relative of the called party. The spoofing caller may attempt to induce the called party to take some financial action detrimental to the called party based on this trust of the observed caller ID value. In some countries, this kind of financial scam is widespread and a problem for everyday users of mobile devices."

The patent also describes what would happen if it is determined that the call is a spoof, either notifying the user or blocking it outright.

"If the result of the evaluation is that the message is spoofed or the likelihood that the message is spoofed is substantial, then a warning is provided to the called party," the patent adds. "In some embodiments, a media session is chosen at the called party's discretion after the warning."

Apple, like the rest of its Silicon Valley competition, often files thousands of patents that never become anything more than words on paper or do not make their way into products until years later.


Robocall disruption

But it's the prevalence of robocalls in recent years that has placed extra attention on this particular patent.

According to a 2017 report from YouMail, 30.5 billion spam calls were made last year, ranging from trying to help people lower their interest rates on mortgages and credit cards to helping people with bad credit get loans.

"As these scams become more prevalent and realistic, it makes sense to simply not accept calls from any unrecognized numbers, and instead allow them to go straight into voicemail,"  Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail, said at the time.

That number is only expected to grow as time goes on. By 2019, First Orion expects that nearly half of all U.S. mobile traffic will be spam calls.

First Orion CEO Charles D. Morgan noted that the Federal Communications Commission has partnered with several technology companies, including First Orion to ward off spam calls, but "we still see rampant increases" as scammers become increasingly more sophisticated and  "invade our privacy at new extremes.”


Google one step ahead 

Google already has a call screening feature as part of its new Pixel 3 device, which it announced earlier this week as it looks to take on Apple's newest iPhones.

"...Pixel 3’s on-device [artifical intelligence] helps you screen phone calls and avoid spam calls," Google said in a blog post, announcing the product." Users can "tap on 'Screen call' to find out who's calling and why, as well as other information (as prompted by you) to help them prevent spam calls.

Users will automatically get a transcript of the caller's responses so they can decide whether to call back later or mark it as spam, similar to what Apple does with its voicemail transcription service.

Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia