Bell to Implement AI-Driven Fraudulent Call Blocking System for Subscribers

Canadian telecom giant Bell has announced that it will implement a temporary, artificial intelligence-driven call blocking system for its subscribers.

According to a new report from The Globe and Mail (paywalled), an application submitted late July to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) outlines Bell’s plans to launch a 90-day trial of an AI-powered call blocking system used to identify suspicious activity and fraudulent callers.

The service would be the first of its kind in Canada and comes at a time when fraudulent calls have unfortunately become more common in the country — 4,000 Canadians reportedly lost a total of more than $15 million CAD as a result of scam callers pretending to be the Canada Revenue Agency.

“We want to take these measures to increase confidence in the voice system because if ordinary Canadians are reluctant to pick up their phones because they don’t trust that the next call may be spoofing them or actively trying to defraud them, it’s bad for Canadians and it’s bad for business,” said Jonathan Blakey, BCE’s assistant general counsel of regulatory affairs.

Last December, the CRTC ruled that telecommunications companies must apply additional protections against unwanted or scam calls from numbers exceeding 15 digits or from numbers that can’t be return-dialled by the end of this year.

However, analysts have since raised concerns regarding the ethics of the artificial intelligence Bell plans to use to implement the service, claiming that the company has yet to provide adequate, relevant information.

“Machine learning and artificial intelligence raises questions about oversight and accountability that necessitate further public review in keeping with emerging best practices for fairness, accuracy, transparency and ethics,” writes Fenwick McKelvey, an associate professor in information and communication technology policy at Concordia University.

KcKelvey last week submitted a request asking the CRTC to release additional information on the service, adding that the AI aspect raises the issue of how the system decides which numbers are blocked, how the data is used, and whether the system has any privacy risks.

“This is the start of what I think will be a new phase of regulatory debate on how we use AI effectively to manage telecommunications networks. It’s an important one to have and hopefully not one lost as it is now, buried in a technical submission to the CRTC,” McKelvey said.

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