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The best way to fight back against phishing is to help people to know they are being phished. So says Stanley Kim, chief operating officer at Hiya. He talked to MEF about the power of ‘caller ID’ to combat phone spam…

Last summer, a study revealed that email spam is at an all time low. It’s still a big problem – 49.7 per cent emails sent are junk. But that’s the lowest percentage in over a decade.

The good news is that spam filters and consumer awareness are combating the criminals. The bad news is that fraudsters are looking to other ways to make money from people through digital deception.

Like voice calls and SMS.

Why is this? In part, because they can afford it. According to Whitepages, Internet telephony has reduced the cost of a phone call for everyone – including phone spammers. Phone calls have become the most disruptive link to consumers and so far the industry has largely left consumers to fend for themselves.

Now, Whitepages is on a mission to combat this alarming trend. The US company is best known as a digital alternative to the Yellow Pages – a top 40 website on which 55 million monthly visitors search for the numbers of people and businesses. It currently has a database of more than 600 million mobile and landline phone numbers in the US, and over 1.5 billion unique numbers in its global database.

However, in parallel to its listings business, Whitepages developed a business focused on caller ID. In April it spun out this business as a standalone entity, Hiya. The Hiya app reveals the identity of a caller and gives users the power to block unwanted calls and detect spam. Key features include:

  • Caller ID: Only take calls from approved people
  • Call Blocker: Black list spam, scams and telemarketers
  • Scam & Spam Protection: Alerts automatically appear to warn if an incoming call is suspected spam
  • Phone Book Contact Photos: See profile photo, job title and city information for contacts from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
  • True Contacts: Add names and addresses from the Whitepages directory to the phone book contacts to keep them verified and up to date

The app provides hard data on the scale of unsolicited voice and text. Last year these statistics were collated inside the annual State of the Unwanted Call report, which revealed a 55 per cent increase in fraudulent scam calls over 2014. Hiya estimates there were 67 million ‘unwanted’ calls over Q2-Q4 of 2015 with 74 per cent categorised as ‘pesky spam calls’.

The company believes its app gives people a tool to combat this trend. Stanley Kim, chief operating officer at Hiya, says: “Fraudsters are not dumb. They understand ROI, and the cost of telephony is almost nothing now, so they have shifted their resources to it. But if people don’t respond, they will stop. The first step in that process is to give people a little bit more information.”

Multi-Layup_thumbAlthough Hiya is available as a standalone app, the company has also pursued partnerships to increase its distribution.

Earlier this year, it sealed a collaboration with Samsung to pre-load a spam-blocking caller ID feature for the new Galaxy S7 phone in 16 countries.

And prior to that, it tied up a deal with T-Mobile USA, which white-labeled the app as Name ID on selected Android devices. Clearly, this partnership has a revenue upside for both parties, as T-Mobile charges a monthly subscription fee for the product.

Kim is now keen to sign similar partnerships with other operators, especially those is developing economies, where the problem is actually more acute.

“In areas of the world where ARPU is high, there can be issues with unsolicited calls, but the proportion of genuinely criminal calls is actually not that high,” says Kim.

“But in places like Brazil, Indonesia and Africa – where ARPU is low – they’re reaching the point where people are getting hundreds of messages a month. It’s serious issue, and we need to help carriers find the resources to attack it.”

Of course combating fraud and nuisance is just the most obvious and pressing application of Hiya. But Kim is keen to stress that it can also help people accept important calls.

“It’s easy to miss important calls because of a lack of information. You might choose not take an important call from your dentist or from AmEx checking it’s really you that’s just made a payment overseas. These are the positive scenarios we can encourage.”

Further ahead, there are even more applications of technology. With all those millions of listings, it’s possible for Hiya to present richer information about a business on screen, and even to offer alternatives when an outgoing call is not picked up.

These scenarios are already being explored by companies such as Europe’s Calldorado. Kim says: “Integrating Caller ID into the dialler holds a lot of promise, but it’s not easy. We’re talking to companies like Calldorado, and looking at all these next-gen ideas.”

Sign up now to MEF’s Mobile Messaging Programme – The Future of Messaging. A cross-ecosystem approach to accelerate market clean-up and advance innovation. Find out more and download the free A2P messaging fraud framework now