How To Block An Ex (Or Anyone Else) On Your Smartphone
"I think I'm going to shave my mustache," the message flashed across Harriet's iPhone screen. "What do you think?"
Harriet looked up from the device with a frown.
"It's almost like we never broke up," she said. "He won't acknowledge what's happened -- he just keeps texting. It's painful enough as it is, but instead of taking a time out to heal, I have to dodge these constant reminders. I told him I needed my space. I got my house keys from him through a friend. I thought he understood, but it really is like this guy has emotional Alzheimer's. Our breakup is clear as day sometimes and other times, he's confused and angry and blowing up my phone like he can't understand why I'm not answering him."
Photo by Md saad andalib. (Flickr)
Another message hit her phone with iPhone's standard ding. It said: "I went out tonight."
Then another: "Can I ask you something?"
Two minutes passed, then another: "Why not block me? If you didn't like me contacting you, wouldn't you just block me or tell me to stop?"
Then another: "Guess it feels good to be desired."
Two more minutes elapsed: "Why not say anything? I don't get it."
Five minutes: "I'm going to shave my mustache."
Four minutes: "Pretty soon, I'm gonna fade away and I'm going to have a bare upper lip. Maybe not bare, I'll keep some stubble."
One minute: "Take it from my experience -- it takes a lot more energy to hate and ignore someone than it does to acknowledge them."
One minute: "You could block me if you wanted to."
The problem -- which was probably unknown to the Ex With Emotional Alzheimer's -- is that while smart phones make a lot of things a breeze, blocking phone numbers is a somewhat more complicated procedure.
Harriet's carrier, AT&T, charges $4.99 a month for their Smart Limits for Wireless service, which enables users to control who contacts them (for up to 30 phone numbers). It's not available for 4G LTE devices and the terms of service have a nice big disclaimer that let you know that AT&T is allowed to end your Smart Limits service at any time, for any reason. Sweet.
Verizon allows users to block numbers with their Safeguards intercept feature, but each number block only last 90 days before it has to be manually reestablished by a user, and only five numbers can be blocked at any given time unless you want to pay a monthly fee. Frankly, I'd rather buy a vanilla soy latte.
T-Mobile allows users to block calls and texts for free, but users don’t get to select which numbers unless they add their Family Allowances service, which is part of a family plan and not really an option for singles. As an anti-spam measure, T-Mobile lets users to select key words to block, however -- much like an e-mail spam filter that would throw messages with certain keywords (like, say, "Cialis") directly to a spam folder -- and in that way flag incoming texts. But there is only so much this feature can do for one when trying to avoid an ex -- which is to say, not very much.
Sprint is probably the only carrier that allows users any semblance of range in this regard at no cost. To block a number, a user need only text "block" and the phone number in question to 9999 (so if you wanted to kill calls and texts from 555-555-5555, you'd text "block 555-555-5555" to 9999).
That only one out of four major U.S. carriers allows free and simple call and text blocking is an outrage -- it shows just how much more carriers care about the bottom line than they do about consumers.
This isn't a question of limited technology: it's a question of boundaries erected by individual carriers and it's wrong. It's one thing to charge for tethering, hot spots and navigation (things most smartphones come equipped with to begin with), but to charge for or otherwise limit something as important to peace of mind as number blocking is seriously pushing it.
Some devices come with integrated number blocking (like Blackberry, for instance), but this tends to be limited to phone calls, not SMS. So what do we do? Here are three options for Android, Blackberry and, yes, even iPhone.
By far one of the most popular blocking apps out there, Mr. Number enables you to block any number you want, an entire area code, or the whole world.
While you're at it, you can set it to automatically reject known spammers, telemarketers, debt collectors and harassers, which the app collects from reports submitted by its 5,000,000 users (they've even got a weekly top 10 worst spammers list!). You can either send rejected numbers straight to voice mail, or your phone can hang up on them, disallowing them to leave a message at all.
The app does automatic reverse lookup on all incoming calls too, so you always know who's trying to reach you. It also lets you set how you show up in caller ID for other people as well. Neat extra feature: you can text for free with any other friends who have the app to avoid text messaging fees (though it will impact your data plan unless you're on wi-fi, just like with IMing).
The app is free, available for Android phones and Blackberry. You'll even find it at the Apple App Store, but don't get too excited. The blocking and caller ID features are not available for iPhone thanks to Apple's draconi -- err, awesome, magical policies.