FCC probes rise of AI robocall armies

'Hello, our records indicate that you had an accident with a massively overhyped technology that wasn't your fault...'

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is tightening the rules protecting cellular network users and has kicked off an effort to understand the impact of AI on robocalls and robotexts.

The impact of AI continues to reverberate, and the FCC wants to see how the technology can worsen that modern-day telecommunication plague: robocalls and robotexts. In particular, the FCC is keen to understand how the tech might negatively - and positively - impact customers.

The latter take is refreshing among the doom-mongering that is often associated with the technology. In this instance, the FCC is considering if AI analytics might better block unwanted calls and texts "and restore trust in our networks," according to the agency. It would certainly be an improvement over reaching for the block button after receiving yet another call from someone purporting to be a Microsoft technician or something about an accident that was not your fault.

However, those scenarios also highlight issues about which the FCC is concerned: for example, criminals' use of AI technology to defraud consumers with texts and calls that mimic trusted sources. AI can already mimic voices of actors, and Microsoft is working on a text-to-speech model that can mimic a person's voice – including intonation – after a mere three seconds of training.

While the FCC is just at the Notice of Inquiry stage around AI, the agency is taking steps to protect the cellphone accounts of US consumers with rules requiring wireless providers immediately notify customers when a SIM change or port-out request is made.

SIM swapping is when a criminal persuades a wireless carrier to shift the victim's service from the victim's cellphone to the attacker's. Port-Out fraud is when a criminal impersonates the victim, opens an account with another carrier, and then arranges for the victim's phone number to be transferred to the new account.

Neither attack method requires physical access to the victim's device to effectively commandeer a victim's account.

The change to the rules will require secure methods of identifying the customer before their number is redirected to a new device or provider.

The FCC is not alone in its concern over fraud in the telecommunications sector. While voluntary, the UK government launched the Telecommunications Fraud Sector Charter in 2021 to try to counter criminal activity in the industry, including SIM swapping and port-out fraud. ®

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