By GREGORY ZELLER // Nomorobo mobile.
Maybe not easy to say three times fast, but it’s happening: Inventor Aaron Foss has cracked the technology necessary for a mobile-phone version of his popular robocall blocker. A beta version is planned for early January, with a full release following a month or so hence.
Foss, CEO of Port Jefferson startup Telephone Science Corp., already has a hit on his hands with Nomorobo, which has more than 360,000 users, has been lovingly featured by the mainstream news media and is credited with snuffing out over 52 million robocalls so far. And all that just guarding landlines.
The problem with going mobile, according to Foss, has been Apple, which doesn’t allow outside vendors to create apps that collect information about calls – the connecting number, the length of the call, “nothing,” Foss noted. “Apple is very protective of its devices.”
And if you can’t launch a mobile app that applies to Apple devices, he added, you might as well not bother to launch it.
“Android lets you create apps that gather all that information, so that was relatively easy to create,” Foss said. “But I felt that until I had a cross-platform device, it wasn’t worth launching a mobile version.”
So Foss, who also teaches entrepreneurship classes at Molloy College, has been back at the drawing board, trying to figure out how to apply his patent-pending robocall terminator to Apple tech.
He’s faced stiff challenges before, most prominently from dated telecommunications rules preventing telephone companies from acting against robocalls. His technology worked, Foss noted, but providers’ hands were tied, including those that wanted to work with him.
Then, in a decided victory for Foss and, arguably, phone-fatigued citizens throughout the land, the Federal Communications Commission in June adopted new rules giving telephone companies wider latitude in blocking robocalls and spam texts on landlines and wireless phones.
“That was really fantastic,” Foss said. “My phone has been ringing nonstop, with carriers saying, ‘We’ve always wanted to do this but we weren’t sure we could.’
“I’m in talks now with a lot of big carriers to have native robocall-blocking built into their systems,” he added. “But the mobile side is going a little slower.”
An Android version that synchs up with the operating system’s built-in Contacts protocols is ready to fly; the app identifies robocalls and adds them to personal block lists as necessary. Working around Apple’s strict rules has been a stickier wicket – “A bunch of stuff hasn’t worked,” Foss noted – but the innovator finally broke through.
It started with an “interesting thought” Foss had in July, leading ultimately to a cloud-based “robocall blacklist” – a shared address book accessible by iPhone users.
Essentially, instead of studying a single number and identifying its robo-nature, the Nomorobo iPhone app compares an incoming number against the blacklist, and warns the user not to answer.
Foss posted YouTube videos this month explaining the Android and iPhone processes in more detail. In both cases, setup is super-simple – registering on Nomorobo’s mobile website, downloading the app and installing it takes about 60 seconds total.
Meanwhile, that blacklist continues to grow. Foss has obtained roughly 200,000 “dirty” telephone numbers from cloud-communications company Twilio and other providers, primarily landlines canceled because they were overrun with telemarketing calls and other robo-annoyances – many of which are still blindly robo-calling those unused numbers.
He’s also created algorithms that crunch consumer data collected by Nomorobo’s existing landline service, checking for numbers containing what the inventor calls “the secret sauce.”
“Is it calling X number of people in a short amount of time?” he said. “Have we seen this number before?”
Based on those and other criteria, new numbers are added to the cloud-based list as necessary. Foss has also purchased access to daily IRS and FCC reports listing consumer robocall complaints, allowing his team to further beef up the blacklist.
All of these sources combined create a cloud-based list that’s 97.1 percent accurate, according to Foss, meaning barely 3 percent of all U.S.-based robocalls currently sneak through his virtual net.
Meanwhile, “false detections” – numbers that are blacklisted but shouldn’t be – have dropped below one-tenth of a percent, Foss added.
“We want accuracy to be as close to 100 percent as possible, and false detections to get as close to 0 percent as possible,” he said. “We’re always refining the algorithms.”
The iPhone app will synch up with the blacklist every 15 minutes, keeping users up-to-date on the robocall scourge. Like the landline version, both Nomorobo mobile versions will be configurable, allowing certain robocalls – from local schools or emergency services, for instance – to slide through.
And Foss continues to add bells and whistles to both versions, such as a real-time log showing newly blocked numbers.
Telephone Science Corp., dba Nomorobo, will work out any bugs through its limited beta run and should have final apps available for Apple and Android downloads by February. Based on the success of his landline version, Foss predicts a strong response.
“The No. 1 request I get is, ‘When is it going to be available on my mobile phone?’” he said. “We have 360,000 landline users, and I would think [Nomorobo mobile] is going to be 10 times bigger. I’m hoping this is going to be huge.”