AT&T Is Now Blocking Robocalls by Default, a First for Cell Phone Providers

Tero Vesalainen/iStock via Getty Images
Tero Vesalainen/iStock via Getty Images

Nothing gets under the skin quite like robocalls, those irritating and persistent attempts to sell questionable services and perpetuate moneymaking scams. A recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling finally paved the way for cell phone carriers to block the calls by default, rather than requiring consumers to opt into a blocking service to stop them.

Now, AT&T is doing exactly that. But if consumers want to block all robocalls, they’ll still have to pay a little extra.

AT&T just announced an expansion of its Call Protect service that will automatically block robocalls suspected to be fraudulent free of charge. Users are also free to manually block individual numbers of known spam callers. But if a consumer wants to automatically block all robocalls, even those from legitimate businesses, it will cost an additional $4 a month.

Call Protect was previously an opt-in feature: Users had to change their phone settings in order to take advantage of it. Due to the FCC ruling, AT&T can now activate Call Protect on all phones.

The benefit is expected to be available to all new AT&T service sign-ups, with existing users added in the coming months. If you don’t want to wait, you can download Call Protect as an app or turn it on via your AT&T account.

While AT&T is the first carrier to make the blocking feature a default, other cell phone providers offer similar functionality. T-Mobile’s Scam Block service blocks likely spam calls, while Verizon’s Call Filter and Sprint’s Premium Caller ID apps perform essentially the same function.

It’s expected robocalls will continue to face an uphill battle in an effort to reach consumers. The FCC also mandated that providers verify calls at the network level before reaching the consumer using a framework known as SHAKEN/STIR, or Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs and the Secure Telephone Identity Revisited standard. Clunky? Maybe. But the standard allows for carriers to catch suspected spam or fraud calls before they reach the consumer. All cell phone providers must implement it before the end of the year.

While nothing is likely to ever completely eliminate robocalls, at least we're making progress.

[h/t ZDNet]

Why You Should Never Charge Your Phone in Public USB Ports Without a USB Data Blocker

Creative-Family/iStock via Getty Images
Creative-Family/iStock via Getty Images

The USB charging ports that have popped up at airports, coffee shops, and even outdoor stations around cities in recent years are definitely a lifesaver when your smartphone is down to its last bit of juice. A dead phone is annoying at best and downright dangerous at worst, so it’s totally understandable why you’d jump at the chance to revive it at your earliest opportunity.

However, those public ports might not be as benevolent as they seem. According to Afar, hackers can load malware onto those stations—or on the cables left plugged into the stations—which can then deliver passwords and other data right from your device to the hacker’s. If you have used a public port recently, don’t panic; TechCrunch reports that these cases are fairly rare. Having said that, it’s definitely better not to risk it, especially considering what a nightmare it would be to have your identity stolen.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office explains that the easiest way to prevent becoming a victim of this type of scam, often referred to as juice-jacking, is simply to abstain from using public USB charging ports. Instead, invest in a portable charger, or plug your own charger into an actual AC power outlet.

But unoccupied power outlets are notoriously hard to come by in public places, and portable chargers themselves can also run out of battery life. Luckily, there’s a small, inexpensive device called a data blocker that will enable you to use public USB charging ports without worrying about juice-jacking. It looks a little like a flash drive with an extra slot, but it lacks the two wires usually found in USB chargers that can download and upload data. That way, your device will charge without transferring any information.

You can get two of them for $11 from Amazon here.

[h/t Afar]

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Scope Out the Best Christmas Light Displays in Your Neighborhood With Nextdoor's Cheer Map

can72/iStock via Getty Images
can72/iStock via Getty Images

For many people, driving around the neighborhood to admire the gorgeous light displays (or laugh at the garish ones) is a beloved holiday tradition. But if you live in a big city or only want to check out the most impressive displays, you might not know where to look. That’s where Nextdoor’s Cheer Map comes in.

Nextdoor is a free and private social network that lets you interact with other people in your neighborhood. It’s used in more than 250,000 neighborhoods around the world, and if yours happens to be one of them, you can use the Cheer Map to find the nearest Christmas light displays in your area. The map is crowdsourced and voluntary, so your neighbors can mark their own homes with a holiday lights icon. And if you're eager to flaunt your own festive decorations, you can mark your home on the map, too.

The results will look something like this:

A woman uses Nextdoor's Cheer Map app
Netxtdoor

You can access the Cheer Map online, or via an iPhone or Android device. To get started, click the Cheer Map link, and you’ll be prompted to create a free online account with Nextdoor if you don’t already have one (signing up is quick and easy). Once you’re logged in, a pop-up window will ask whether you plan on decorating for the holidays; select “I will” or “Not this year,” then click "Continue." If you don’t want to participate, you can also select “Skip” to jump ahead to good stuff and access the map of decorated homes in your neighborhood. And that’s it! If you selected “I will,” a colorful light icon will mark your home on the map.

For those who live in small towns, there’s a chance you’ll be the first person in your neighborhood to join the site. Unfortunately, that means your neighborhood won’t be officially “launched” on Nextdoor unless you get nine of your neighbors to sign up. But even if you aren’t able to use the Cheer Map this holiday season, you could help spread the word (and holiday cheer) to get your neighborhood on the map for next year.

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