General VoIP

Can blockchain fix the VoIP phone number verification conundrum?

Unlocked Padlocks

Note: If you’re looking for a VoIP phone number to register an OpenAI account go to the bottom of this post.

Am I the only one surprised that no ones’ figured out a way to incorporate “VoIP” phone numbers and “verification” with some sort of blockchain tech? Specifically the SMS verification, it’s not a technical issue either, they just wont accept the “VoIP” number to begin with.

I think I just heard someone with a blockchain background go “cha-ching!”

Sure you’ll need the providers to come on board, as well as the companies to accept your “verified” VoIP number in their systems, but with some elbow grease I think this could work. Apparently blockchain tech is being used to verify Kanye West sneakers, so there’s that, I digress.

On social media (mainly twitter) I like to keep tabs on what people might say in regards to VoIP, PBX systems and phone numbers in general. I must say, sometimes you come across interesting tweets, the amount of people posting their phone number under some fake African queen account tragically anticipating when their Queen will call may startle you.

So back on topic, what caught my attention was the constant stream of people complaining on twitter that they can’t get their OpenAI (ChatGPT) accounts verified (using their VoIP phone numbers of course). Many of these individuals use virtual phone numbers as their main phone numbers, many for businesses but definitely some as their main personal line. 

In recent years I’ve noticed the gap widening, more and more companies are rejecting VoIP phone numbers for new user sign-ups. But is this distinction fair, or even accurate?

A VoIP phone number (or for the more technically affluent, “DID phone number”), at its core, is not fundamentally different from a traditional phone number. They both serve as unique identifiers, connecting callers and recipients within the vast telecommunication network. The key difference lies not in the numbers themselves, but in the underlying technology and how these numbers are utilized.

More importantly though, both types of numbers come from the same place. They are both allocated and managed by the same governing bodies and follow the same standardized formats. If a bank in New York is opening up offices and needs 10 phone numbers, more often than not those numbers will be “VoIP”, in many cases an IT person will have it all managed and routed to an internal or hosted PBX for example.

Another scenario to help understanding the issue here is if you had a mobile phone number with T-mobile, and then ported it over to Google voice, that phone number would go from being “verifiable” to “unverifiable” in the eyes of someone like OpenAI.

Cartoon of raccoon with cape working behind a laptop with a skull for a logo
Raccoon hacker

The rationale behind the reluctance of many companies to accept VoIP phone numbers for verification is somewhat justified. The primary concern stems from the potential for abuse that these numbers present. Since VoIP numbers aren’t tied to a specific geographical location or device, they provide a degree of anonymity that can be exploited by various malicious actors.

I can’t say I blame them but I am curious as to why something like this hasn’t kicked off yet, enterprise companies seem inundated with support requests regarding verifying phone numbers.

A pink brain with finger coming out of it pointing SW and the word thinking in colorful letters on top
Thinking brain

Vision without execution is hallucination.

-Thomas Edison

Other than because of scammers, spammers and just abusers in general, I don’t know of any reason why institutions won’t accept VoIP numbers for their signup verification.

The idea is one thing, executing is another. The heavy lifting seems more marketing and getting VoIP providers on board. Perhaps get a couple big companies to buy-in to the idea and then the rest will follow. Imagine if Paypal or OpenAI integrated this imaginary blockchain company, it’ll snowball for sure.

It could provide a robust and transparent method to validate and verify these “virtual” phone numbers, adding a layer of trust and security that is currently lacking.

Imagine a blockchain network where various VoIP service providers participate. Each time a VoIP number is issued, this information could be recorded as a transaction on the blockchain. The blockchain, due to its immutable and transparent nature, could serve as an unalterable record of the VoIP number’s history, including its origin, the identities involved, and any subsequent transactions.

A VoIP number’s verification could then be achieved by checking its associated blockchain record. This would allow companies to quickly and reliably ascertain the number’s legitimacy, and by extension, the credibility of the user. The blockchain could also record instances of misuse, providing valuable data for identifying patterns of fraudulent behavior and enhancing overall security measures.

The decentralized nature of the blockchain should also help reign in the international VoIP providers. Many of those spam call centers and abusers of phone numbers are in 3rd world countries making them harder to track down.

If someone out there knows what they’re doing, and has the resources, you have my blessings, just don’t forget where you heard it first! (and you owe me a steak dinner).

Edit: The below reddit comment made a good point. (not the part about me being clueless)

Phone numbers aren’t permanent for each person so custody would be in providers hands. There’s tons of reasons why not to do this.

The author seems clueless about crypto as a side note

My response: Well, you could probably build a mechanism that periodically checks if the number is still being controlled by said VoIP provider. Perhaps hack RTP signaling or some other SIP authentication method.

Edit 2: Officially, we can’t guarantee SMS verification (short codes) however we’ve seen success registering OpenAI/ Chat-GPT (AUTHMSG) accounts with Israeli mobile (972-55) and Netherlands mobile numbers (31-97).

By Nader Jaber

Helping people communicate while trying to improve as a communicator myself.

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