Saturday, August 5, 2017

Stopping Telemarketing Calls - ATT Call Protect

How to stop telemarketing calls when using AT&T cellular.

The AT&T program, "ATT Call Protect", is a free service that helps block telemarketing, surveys, scams and other such calls. 

The program is written by another company, "Hiya caller-ID and Block" and the two are nearly identical.  If you are not an ATT customer, consider the Hiya version, which can also be found in the appstores. 

I recommend this version over other call-blocking software I have tried.

Installing:

ATT Android customers have to install two pieces of software from the app PlayStore:  "ATT Mobile Security" and then "ATT Call Protect," in that order.  I am unclear why both programs are required.  As you install, you have to go through some gyrations to connect to the ATT database and prove you are a legitimate ATT customer; all is menu driven. 

Apple users only need to install one application, "ATT Call Protect".

Non ATT customers should install the "Hiya Caller-ID and Block version."  I suspect this is easier to install, although none of them are hard.  In all cases, grant rights to your Address Book and to the phone.  Your address book acts like a white-list.


Flaws:

The tool works well but has a few small design flaws:
  • Calls are not blocked at the network, instead uses a locally-installed application.
     
  • On ATT Android phones, two applications are required for this one function. It took me several attempts to get ATT's access code typed in; their install is a bit kooky.  They Hiya version probably installs easier, but it will slightly change your Answer-phone dialogs.
     
  • Flagging calls requires a couple of clicks and a pull-down menu -- a bit too complicated for when you are angry.  The "Report" button is mis-named and should have been called "Flag."  This is really a minor complaint.
     
  • Unsure the difference between Report (flag) and Block.  Probably not material.
     
  • Flagged calls by other users sometimes still reach your phone.  They need to be blocked by enough people to stop arriving.  For example, I saw one call with 600 flags, but it still rang my phone.  This defies logic.
     
Even with the flaws, it is still worthwhile. The program works and I have been pleased with the results.



A locally-installed app is required because this is how you report spam.  As more people "flag" the number, its reputation gets bad enough to be "blocked."  It seems that 100 nation-wide reports is the trigger to move a caller into the blocked list.  The more of us who report, the more accurate and better-responding the app becomes.

Illustrated shows my phone has 13 legitimate inbound calls.  Four have been flagged as suspicious  (and they did not ring my phone - and yet for some flagged calls, they did ring... I am confused by this), and another 4 were blocked.  Clicking the numbers reveal more details.



Flagged or blocked, the calls still arrive at your phone, but they are in stealth-mode and you will not hear the ring.   I wish the call were blocked higher-up on the network, but this is a quibble and does not change your experience.

With flagged or blocked calls, the app proudly informs you on the top-notification bar.  I found this slightly annoying.  If desired, click the app's hamburger menu, settings, and turn off "blocked call notifications" (recommended).  Or, from the System, Apps menu, block notifications from there.


Periodically, I open the app and look at the inventory, nudging a few of the calls along their journey to block-dom. 


Complicated Flagging

You can simply ignore blocked calls and let others worry about reporting bad guys -- but the more who report, the faster it gets blocked.

If a call rings on your phone, that means nobody bothered to flag it.  With disgust, hang up and open the app; find the call and click either "Report" or "Block." 

If you click "Report", another menu appears, where you can select what type of call it was:

- General Spam
- Telemarketer
- IRS Scam
- Debt Collector
- Political
- Survey, etc.

I am sure this is useful, but nobody has time for this. Report the call and be done with it.  Perhaps an "Advanced Flag" button?  I can understand the reasoning, but seems like a lot of clicks and a too many decisions. 

I wish the "Report" button were labeled as "Flag" -- matching the rest of the screens.  

 
Competing Programs

In the app-stores you can find dozens of competing call-block programs.  Most are scams or are used by so few as-to-be ineffective.

One program, "TrueCaller" (out of Scandinavia), has been popular.  But like most apps, it contains advertisements and has in-app purchases. I tried "TrueCaller" for a couple of weeks and found it pestered me too often about upgrades and it pestered too often when it blocked calls.  I felt ATT's software was less intrusive.

ATT's Call Protect was written by a company named Hiya.  Hiya's own program, "Hiya caller-ID and Block" is available separately in the app store, with 5M downloads.  I did not try this version, but it looks nearly identical.  I suspect ATT purchased a license and both versions use the same database.  The Hiya version overlays the phone-answer panels with their own screens, making it slightly different than you might be used to.  I decided to use the ATT version.  Your thoughts on this program are welcome.


Other Minor Issues with ATT Software:

My ATT phone came with the usual array of crap-ware, including "ATT Protect Plus" -- which I think is an older version of ATT Call Protect.  You cannot un-install that software, being locked into my phone, and one wonders if they have conflicts.  Your phone may have a different experience.

Use this keyliner article to disable the older version (and other programs):
http://keyliner.blogspot.com/2014/12/disable-cellphone-crapware-android.html


My phone also came with a security and virus scanning program called "Lookout".  Unfortunately, this cannot be uninstalled or disabled.  "ATT's Mobile Security" (the first of two required programs used by the call-blocking software) is written by the same Lookout company.  As near as I can tell, both programs are running at the same time and both do the same thing.  Except for wasted resources, I have seen no harm.  I happen to like ATT's version and without any grounds, I trust it more than the free version that came on my phone.


Conclusion:

If you are an ATT customer, install their version; if you are not an ATT customer, consider the Hiya version.  Participate in flagging and blocking unwanted calls and help the database grow. 

I have noticed some Verizon phones have similar features and it may be part of the Samsung experience.  My Verizon friends thought this was normal and never had to go out of their way to install.  This shows there is a fine line between having unwanted crapware and having a truly useful utility.  I think the key is un-install-ability. And what if you are lonely and want these calls?  What if you like to harass them?  The world is complicated.


Related Articles:
Disable unwanted Cell phone crapware

Related and mentioned software:
ATT Protect Home Page
Hiya Caller-ID and Block (see App Stores)


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