Mystery disconnects and loop recordings plaguing Israeli-U.S. phone calls

Hello? Anyone there?

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December 20, 2018 23:00
4 minute read.
An attendee uses a new iPhone X during a presentation for the media in Beijing, China, 2017.

An attendee uses a new iPhone X during a presentation for the media in Beijing, China October 31, 2017.. (photo credit: REUTERS/THOMAS PETER)

 
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Is it a spy system gone wrong, a way to snatch some extra profits or just a telecom glitch?

Whatever is happening with international calls from Israel has people wondering and speculating in a new world of technology that is used constantly, but few even remotely understand.

In recent days, a growing number of people have been noticing a loop phenomenon where, during transatlantic calls, they hear recordings of people to whom they had been speaking.

In a string of posts on Reddit and Google Product Forums, a number of callers described experiences where their international call was cut off, but then a recording of the call is played back to them.

This occurs when they are not on the phone anymore. They receive the recorded voice of the person they were speaking to played back to them, even as they see on call waiting that the person is trying to call them back and were then cut off.

One post described the phenomenon as follows: “Sometimes I have this weird situation when making international calls: after exactly two minutes I hear the conversation of another person from the beginning, like an audio loop. How the hell can this happen? It’s very strange!”

Multiple posts mentioned or joked about the foreign calls being monitored by the United States National Security Agency (NSA), the possibility of wiretaps and that something could be causing the loop.

And in fact, it is at least possible that intelligence agencies monitoring calls could lead to issues like those described – though The Jerusalem Post is unaware that anyone has offered specific evidence to date.

The way that Internet-based international calls work is that if calls are intercepted – say by an intelligence agency – this may increase the amount of time it takes for the sender of the call to receive it. If the additional time is long enough, then the technological platform might re-send the call, mistakenly thinking that it did not go through.

Also, intelligence agencies can be imperfect in covering their tracks, causing mistaken delays in pushing a call through that can have the same effect – the senders then think that they must resend the call. While this is possible, it is far from the only explanation; there are far less dramatic possibilities for the phenomenon.

Another cause could be telecoms trying to snatch extra profits by playing games with their customers.

In one post, user dovi5988 said: “This is a known issue primarily in the Middle East but [in] other countries as well. I work for a telecom carrier and about two years ago we started seeing this issue [in] Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

“We have also seen it in Turkey, Germany and lastly South Africa. There is a carrier in route that is messing with the call. The way telecom works is every carrier pays the next carrier per minute for the call,” continued the post.


Moreover, “if you are using Google Voice they may send the call to British Telecom. British Telecom may then hand off the call to Verizon. Verizon may then have a relationship with DU (a carrier in Saudi Arabia) which completes the call to the mobile headset.”

The post then explained that sometimes a mid-point carrier may make extra profits by getting people to repeat themselves while altering what they tell other companies regarding how long the call was.

Using these tricks, they can charge the person extra without having to share the full profits for the multiple calls, since the companies involved believe there was only one call.

The user also described more blatant fraud schemes, indicating that they have spread from Middle Eastern countries to other markets as well.

However, the most likely reason that the eerie repeat loop happens is simply that the Internet was never meant to become an international telephone service.

There have been multiple evolutions and forerunners of today’s Internet, but at least one original strand relates to secret US defense agencies which, among other things, were trying to develop a system in the 1960s which could withstand a nuclear attack.

The basic idea was to have a decentralized network with no single main brain, so that if one major point of the network was nuked, the other points would still be fully intact.

With this kind of decentralization, the routing of information is far slower, runs on a longer and more complicated path, and is subject to a variety of greater problems.

When both ends of a call are in the West – where there is much greater processing capacity – these inherent problems can often be handled and glossed over without leaking down to the consumer.

However, when a call goes internationally and anywhere along the way runs through a slower or more limited network, these inherent problems are more likely to impact the consumer, such as sending certain calls in a constant loop.

So what is causing this bizarre audio-loop phenomenon? It could be any of the above. But whether the cause is dramatic or just weak routing technology, it is always jarring.

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