SMS Shield — SMS Spam Filtering Comes to iOS 11
Of the many new features and enhancements that Apple has introduced in iOS 11, its SMS Spam filtering capability is what I’ve been most excited about since the announcement at WWDC 2017. SMS Spam has bothered me over the last several years and it was disappointing to see Apple completely ignore the native SMS app at WWDC every year. Unlike email, where you can at least access your inbox via 3rd party apps, SMS is something that is only available in the native Messages app. And if you’re in India, the nuisance has increased exponentially in the last couple of years. It has gotten so bad that I’ve been using my primary number in an Android phone with Reos Message. Thankfully, Apple has added SMS Filtering capabilities to iOS 11 this year and there are a few apps already that promise to offer you some peace of mind. It’s nowhere close to what is possible on Android, but it’s a start. SMS Shield — made by the duo at Taphive is what I’m currently using on my iPhone.
How SMS Filtering Works on iOS 11
For the uninitiated, let me quickly explain how SMS Filtering works on iOS and what that means for a Privacy standpoint. This feature works via a new framework introduced in iOS 11 called IdentityLookup (Session #249). It works very similar to the Content Blocking feature that Apple introduced in iOS 10. iOS offers the ability to filter out unwanted content, but you have to give it a list of what it has to filter out. Similar to how there are Content Blocking apps available for Safari, there are SMS filtering apps available for the Messages app that provide it a list of known spam senders or templates for what it perceives as spam messages. SMS Filtering only works for SMS and MMS messages (not iMessage) and only works for senders that are not in your contact list. Once you turn on the feature in Settings > Messages, the Messages app will start displaying a new ‘SMS Junk’ tab. All your unwanted SMS and MMS messages will be automatically classified under this tab and you won’t be notified with an alert. Unfortunately, SMS Filtering only works every time you receive a message, so your existing messages cannot be reclassified or moved into the new tab. iOS also doesn’t let the extension or the app know your own phone number — only the Sender’s phone number and contents of the message are shared with the app/extension.
SMS Shield by Taphive
SMS Shield by Taphive is one such SMS Spam Filtering app that I’ve been testing over the last few weeks. It is powered by a Machine Learning algorithm and takes a smart approach to filtering. Much like content blocking apps, it comes with a trained library of what it considers as spam messages. Every time you get a new SMS/MMS from someone who is not in your contacts, the SMS Shield extension is invoked and it filters the message. If it matches the conditions, the extension puts it in the Junk tab and suppresses the notification. It really works great. With a few simple configuration tweaks, it has managed to handle most of the spam I’ve been getting on my iPhone.
You can customize SMS Shield to filter out unwanted messages by setting up your own rules too. It offers a Custom Block List feature that allows you to specify keywords or numbers that the app will automatically filter out. For example, I have a specific rule set to filter our all SMS originating from ‘*-LNSKRT’ and ‘*-SKNCRE’ and ‘*-REGINF’. The asterisk in those examples is a wildcard and is used because SMS Span in India originates from different Sender IDs such as “VK-LNSKRT” or “AM-LNSKRT” or “JK-REGINF”. SMS Shield also includes a Frequent Traveler Mode that suppresses the annoying “Welcome to X” messages you receive when you’re roaming outside your home network.
In case SMS Shield misclassifies a few messages, you can use the ‘Report an SMS’ field to retrain the model. Simply paste the contents of the message and tell the app whether it was a Spam SMS, Carrier SMS or Normal SMS and it’ll remember that next time. There’s also a handy Test Filter feature that lets you check how the current model is working. SMS Shield currently works with messages in English, Portuguese (Brazil), Arabic, and Italian. You can request additional languages by emailing the developers.
SMS Shield requires an ongoing subscription to work, and the pricing has been set as follows:
— Gold Subscription @ $5.99 per year (Effectively $0.50/mon)
— Silver Subscription @ $3.99 per 6 months (Effectively $0.66/mon)
— Classic Subscription @ $0.99/mon
In India, this pricing is set at Rs. 300 per year, Rs. 180 per 6 months and Rs. 50 per month.
You can sign up for a Free 1-week trial and try out the app. You’ll only be charged at the end of the 1-week period.