With iOS 10, Apple released a new call-blocking feature that helped curb the Great Spam Call Epidemic of the West. This year, Apple aims to do the same for SMS spam. The call blocking feature lets third-party apps filter calls from identified and verified spammers. Now after updating to iOS 11, you can get a similar feature for SMS spam.
While the spam call epidemic was concentrated in the West, the SMS spam epidemic has been railing the developing countries for the past couple of years. In many developing countries, your phone number is your login for apps and services (just like email is in the West).
Not only is your phone number not sacred, it’s also verified by multiple services. This expands the scope of SMS spam from updates to subscribed services all the way to every possible spam from related services.
How SMS Spam Blocking Works on iOS 11
SMS spam blocking in iOS 11 works using a new framework called IdentityLookup. It’s a simple filtering framework, similar to how Content Blockers work in iOS 10. You give the framework a list of what to filter out and iOS 11 does it.
SMS spam blocking apps provide the framework with a list of known spammers (either the number or the text itself) and the framework filters them out.
Once filtering is turned on for an app, there’s a new section that shows up in the Messages app: SMS Junk. Here you’ll find messages that have been marked as spam. Tap on a conversation and you’ll see all messages from the blocked sender, with text that will tell you which app filtered the message.
When a message is filtered, you don’t get a notification for it, and it doesn’t show up in the main tab in Messages.
How to Enable a Spam Blocking App in iOS 11
Just like the call blocking feature, a spam blocking app needs to be manually enabled. And you can only run one SMS filtering app at one time.
- Go to Settings > Messages and select Unknown and Spam.
- Toggle the switch next to the app you want to enable.
- Accept the conditions and the filtering app will be active.
VeroSMS takes a manual, privacy-first approach to SMS filtering. Which is what makes it our top recommendation. VeroSMS doesn’t have access to your SMS and no data is sent to app’s servers. All filtering happens on your device.
In the free version of the app, you can manually add keywords VeroSMS should filter out. This can be the sender number or a common spam keyword (like sale, cashback, discount).
Similarly, there’s a whitelist feature where you can add keywords that will never be filtered out. For important messages like from your bank, this can be a really useful feature.
When you pay the one time $0.99 in-app purchase, you’ll unlock a country-specific crowdsourced whitelist and blacklist. This list is editable and for me, just flipping this switch took care of the most common spam messages.
2. SMS Shield
SMS Shield is the fancy SMS filtering app (as fancy as an SMS filtering app can get). It’s a machine learning based spam filtering app. What’s interesting about this app is that it works offline and on the device. All the machine learning happens on your device (thanks to the new APIs in iOS 11).
SMS Shield’s AI engine has been trained by tens of thousands of SMS spam messages. This means it can identify spam even if the app hasn’t seen the same message or keyword before. This is on a whole different level from entering keywords manually.
You also have some manual control. You can block SMS from a specific contact and keywords. But there’s no whitelist feature like with VeroSMS.
If you travel a lot, you’ll appreciate the Frequent Traveller Mode. This feature automatically blocks the barrage of SMS you get when you cross state or country borders.
But all that machine learning comes at a monthly cost. Once the one week trial is up, SMS Shield costs $0.99/month or $5.99/year.
If you’re already using Hiya for call blocking, and it’s working well for you, try using Hiya for SMS filtering as well. When you get an SMS from an unknown number, it’s sent anonymously to Hiya’s servers where they determine if it’s spam or not. If it is, it’s filtered out automatically by Hiya.
Hiya’s filtering is completely dependent on the data they have. And it might not work well for all countries. But if you’re in the U.S. or U.K., it should.
Privacy is the biggest issue with Hiya (just like with call blocking). Data is anonymized but you have to take their word for it. If Hiya’s methods creep you out, I suggest you stick with VeroSMS.
Troubleshooting SMS Filtering
Because this is still a new system, the apps will get things wrong. When in doubt, try the following strategies.
- Add as a contact: If an app is filtering useful messages from an unknown number as spam, try adding that number to your contact book.
- Use the app’s whitelist: From VeroSMS, you can go in an add that phone number to the whitelist.
Or How About iMessage Instead?
There are many other options for SMS filtering apps out there. But none of them really stood out to us. If you’re in a country which has a strong Truecaller database, you might want to use Truecaller’s SMS filtering (although at the time of writing, the feature isn’t working as advertised in India).
Another option is to forego SMS text messages and start using iMessage, which admittedly uses data but is a lot more reliable and packed with cool features, including the ability to play fun iMessage games like Game Pigeon.