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Hiya says bye-bye to spam calls

12/17/2021

Telemarketers and Chinese speakers asking you to press “9” are cluttering our phones. A start-up in Seattle is trying to put an end to all that.

It’s happened to us all: We’re in an important meeting and our phones go off. The caller? “Telemarketer” or a number that is suspiciously close to our own. We’re smart, we don’t pick up. But it’s still annoying.

Seattle-based Hiya recognizes this and wants to return our smartphones to being both smart and phones. Cellphone carriers estimate that some 50 billion spam calls are made to Americans each year, with only about 6% getting an answer — then, typically, a prompt hang-up. But not everyone hits the red button. About one-third of Americans lose money to phone scams each year, resulting in a whopping $29.8 billion in lost funds to your fellow citizens in 2020 alone. In 2016, Hiya CEO Alex Algard spun his new company out of directory-services company WhitePages.com, creating what was essentially a caller ID app. There was, not surprisingly, a lot of interest. Its Hiya Protect product is included in services packages offered by AT&T Call Protect and Samsung Smart Call, among others and counts more than 200 million users worldwide.

In November, Hiya launched a new product, Adaptive AI, that uses AI to detect around one-fifth more bogus calls than Hiya Protect. Its AI algorithm goes out and hunts for illegal callers in real-time by observing patterns left by spammers in the network traffic, including from which carrier the call originated, in what country, and if its network signature has the tell-tale signs of spam. Then the algorithm blocks the annoying calls without the need for human intervention, retraining, or even historical data, which is outdated as soon as a machine receives it, anyway.

In case you haven’t noticed that your spam calls have plummeted, consider this nugget of data the company provided: The car warranty spam campaign has recently been proliferating throughout the US, warning worried consumers that their warranties are (falsely) about to expire — but just pay us some money and you can get a new one. Hiya detected 90% of all faux car warranty calls, while its competitors let as many as four times more of those calls slip through to subscribers.

“By deploying a self-learning system that recognizes the underlying patterns of spam calls, we’re able to proactively find and stop spammers even if they change their tactics,” said CEO Alex Algard. “We know that spammers move fast. This new capability ensures we move even faster.”