(KAKE) - The number of robocalls has been rising during the past year. Despite legislation efforts and attempts at creating apps and programs to weed out the unwanted nuisances, these calls still bother just about anyone with a phone.

On the technical side, a new system called STIR/SHAKEN is being unveiled. This system is designed to target robocallers who spoof numbers illegally.  It has already been implemented in some places, to mixed results. National carriers developed the program and have the tech to roll it out, but smaller, regional carriers may not be able to implemented it to its full capacity. For this reason, any nationwide technical rollout is hard to nail down.   

Still, the expectation is that STIR/SHAKEN — which digitally validates the handoff of phone calls and makes sure that the caller ID is signed as legitimate — will have an impact by summer of 2021 in reducing the number of calls that will make it to your cell phone.     

Unfortunately, as the covid-19 pandemic winds down, spam calls will probably increase, because call centers in places such as Indian and Pakistan, places that were shut down to social distancing, will reopen to full capacity. 

Third, on the legal front, a case before the Supreme Court could also make spam texts and calls far more pervasive. In November of 2020, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case with enormous implications for the sanctity of your phone.

Several years ago, someone linked their telephone number to their Facebook account. As time passed, that person gave up their phone number, but in 2014, that number was assigned to a person named Noah Duguid, who didn't even have a Facebook account, according to Business Insider.

When Facebook began texting that number repeatedly about suspicious activity on the account of the previous number's owner, Dugiud requested that they stop texting him. They didn't. He chose to sue. The case made its way through the legal system and, after Duguid won at the Ninth Circuit court of appeals, Facebook took the case to the Supreme Court. At issue now is whether Facebook used what under the TCPA is an automated telephone dialing system, but as tends to be the case with legal matters escalated to the Supreme Court, it's about more than that.

"Facebook and Yahoo have an interest in not being sued when they fail to stop texts," said Margot Freeman Saunders, the senior counsel at the National Consumer Law Center.

Facebook, backed by dozens of business groups, and Duguid, who is backed by several consumer advocates and Congressional representatives, are each arguing for a different interpretation of what an Automated Telephone Dialing System is. Facebook's legal team argues that an ATDS, under the law, only calls numbers randomly or sequentially, and as a result their use of a machine to automatically contact phone numbers through a dialing system does not technically count as an ATDS because they're calling from a list. Duguid's argument is the law specifically stipulates consent, which necessitates a list, and as a result the system is still an ATDS.

 

"Courts are buying some of these excuses, and the FCC under (President) Trump did not come down hard on these ridiculous excuses," Saunders said. "Instead they didn't do anything."

No matter the outcome of the case, the Supreme Court's ruling will have a direct impact on your cell phone. If Facebook wins, businesses will get a massive boost in their robocalling power and also for people who abuse the system. It will grant legal cover to spam calls and texts that haven't been in place for decades, according to consumer advocates.    

"If they win," Saunders said, "what we will have is a tsunami of unwanted texts, because there will be no limit on uninvited texts."

When the case is decided, expect a legislative fight. Despite the fact that polls show vast public annoyance with robocalls, the political might of the pro-robocall lobby vastly exceeds that of the anti-robocall crowd. 35 different companies in addition to Facebook wrote or signed on to friends-of-the-court briefs to bolster the case for robocalls. These organizations all have their reasons for supporting Facebook's cause, most of which comes down to less liability for texting and calling people. Those businesses and groups also exert an enormous amount of influence in Washington outside of the legal realm. 

An Insider analysis of Center for Responsive Politics data found that as a whole, the pro-Facebook forces spent a collective $184.7 million on federal lobbying across all issues in 2020, employing a collective 689 unique lobbyists. By comparison, the various consumer groups that signed on to support Duguid's case employed a collective six federal lobbyists in 2020, and spent a grand total of $250,000 across all issues.

Congress has relented in pursuing aggressive anti-robocall policies. The reality is that those with the money make the rules, and consumer advocates don't have the majority of the money to successfully fight against the calls.  

So what can people do to put a stop to robocalls?

It would be great if there was a simple technical solution to rid oneself of annoying robocalls. However, that's not the case. Anyone, anywhere on earth can set up a script to spam robocalls for fractions of a cent. No government agency can find and dismantle all these services, neither can they get rid of all the gateway carriers that slip them into the system. No carrier can find them in the billion-call flow of the telecom system. Even if they could, they'd be nervous about killing a call unless someone told them explicitly to do so.

 

The solution, according to the people who do not operate mobile applications designed to fight call spam, is to install a mobile application designed to fight call spam. These systems are fairly clever in maintaining a more active block list than the carriers.

In addition to the FTC-maintained blacklist that can nuke a bad number across the board, apps like Nomorobo and YouMail can be effective in weeding out robocalls. Nomorobo has stopped 2 billion robocalls since Foss first launched it in the FTC bake-off, analyzing 150 million calls a month to find patterns. When there are billions of calls per day, and spammers pick up and drop numbers to evade detection, it's a constant war of attrition. YouMail works by using your own voicemail as a trap, finding new robocallers by listening in and comparing incoming calls against a database of scams, a "Shazam for Spam."

Also, do not fall for spam calls, and to advise loved ones on how to avoid them; the FTC maintains a list of common scams to prepare against.

Finally, when you sign up for anything, especially online, read the fine print before you hit that ENTER button; many companies "obtain consent" to send you calls and texts by burying that information in terms and conditions, which many people fail to read. 

Beyond that, it's up to the courts to decide how much power consumers have over their own phones.