Apple's Call-Blocking Feature May Be A Little Too Good

Photo: Alex Cranz, Gizmodo

Apple’s iOS 13 release is crammed with features we’ve been looking forward to getting our hands on for months — I’m looking at you, Arcade and system-wide Dark Mode — but one of the tools that this blogger was most excited for was Apple’s spam-fighting feature to silence those infuriating robocalls driving us all mad. And if you’re looking to free yourself from the hell of incessant, unwanted calls from unknown numbers, this is absolutely the feature for you. That said, you should also be aware of some problems you might bump into with the tool enabled.

To turn the feature on, navigate to Settings and then Phone, where you’ll find the Silence Unknown Callers option. With this feature turned on, calls from unknown numbers will be forwarded straight to voicemail and listed in Recents. (Missed calls will still leave push notifications, and another notification will appear if a voicemail was left.)

In order to help navigate which calls should be sent to voicemail and which ones you may not have saved but might want to receive, Apple says the feature silences all unknown calls except for those a user has previously called, numbers saved in Contacts, and those that Siri suggests from Mail and Messages.

Screenshot: Gizmodo

This is, to be sure, a fantastic feature if you’re constantly up against a tidal wave of calls from unknown numbers. It also might make it easier to claim that you missed a call if, say, you need an excuse for failing to return one. (Oops!)

But because the filter silences all unknown callers, having the feature enabled means you could also miss an important call from work or your doctor’s office, assuming those numbers aren’t saved in your phone. I recently missed a call from my significant other, for example, who called from an unsaved office phone.

There also appear to be some bugs Apple has yet to work out (though, arguably, that’s to be expected with a v1 rollout of a new OS). The filter shouldn’t silence incoming text messages, but members of the Gizmodo staff seemed to run into some glitches. I, as well as Senior Reviews Editor Alex Cranz, had issues with push notifications for text messages from unknown numbers.

Both of us placed delivery orders and were mortified to learn that we were not being notified of texts or calls coming through from our couriers, leaving those delivery workers in the lurch when they needed to reach us. Alex noted her delivery person tried contacting her from their personal phone number, and the calls were immediately routed to voicemail.

Repeated calls are ignored. (Screenshot: Gizmodo)

The company through which my delivery was placed, Shipt, says it masks numbers to protect the security of both its shoppers and customers. This suggests both private numbers and those regularly used by services like Shipt or FreshDirect are subject to the rerouting.

The feature also appeared to be buggy for text messages to and from other members of our team. When I tried to text Senior Editor Adam Clark Estes, he got a notification on his laptop but not his phone. When Alex tried to text me from her iPhone, and vice versa, no notification populated on the home screen—at first. Several back-and-forth texts later, iOS not only began surfacing notifications on the home screen but also suggested who the text was from (i.e. “Maybe: Alex Cranz”).

Apple declined to comment.

All in all, it’s a good and welcome feature given the present scourge of bots and spam calls. It’s not the only one though. Most carriers in the U.S. now have some kind of spam blocking feature, which typically blocks numbers from known spammers and nothing else. Apple’s solution is a little more severe, but potentially useful if you’re harassed by the billions of spam calls.

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