I despise robodialers and their political masters who exempt themselves from the popular Do Not Call legislation. At one point in these pages I dreamed of retaliating in kind against those who wield them:
Retaliate in kind – I could imagine a new service that lets you sic your own robodialer on the people who were nice enough to target you. Surely the irritation could motivate some small transaction fee. You could choose from a standard set of (long-winded) messages or record your own.
Now a startup is promising to let you “communicate with politicians the way they prefer to communicate with you: Robocalls.” I look forward to seeing whether ReverseRobocall can bring us to a state of robodialer Mutually Assured Destruction and deter politicians and their pollster lapdogs from their ongoing acts of telephonic aggression. You can sign up for the beta here.
Hopefully there is an API (presumably it is built on Twilio) so I can automate my 100 to 1 retaliatory policy (and the multiplier goes up for negative ads or particularly chipper politicians). If the politicians change the law so robodialers can call our mobile numbers, we’ll need to crowdsource the mobile numbers of the political establishment to ensure they receive a fully symmetrical experience. In the end, I suppose, it turns into a daily deals operation like everything else, with the politicians in the merchant role. Conspiracy theorists might even suspect politicians are behind the site, using their own despicable behavior as a surefire way to build up their email list as they recognize the inexorable decline of landline phones.
Nothing like having the whole household awoken by a robocall early on a Sunday morning.
The Do No Call law is a huge success. Over 190 million phone numbers are registered (including mine). That is truly impressive given it is opt-in. The law has been expanded a couple times since it was introduced, making registrations perpetual (originally they were for five years) and extending it to cellular and VOIP numbers. The popularity has spurred other consumer-friendly regulation, in particular an FTC ban on robocalls by telemarkers as of September 2009:
“[A]n amendment making explicit a prohibition in the TSR on telemarketing calls that deliver prerecorded messages without a consumer’s express written agreement to receive such calls. This amendment also requires that all prerecorded telemarketing calls provide specified opt-out mechanisms so that consumers can opt out of future calls. The amendment is necessary because the reasonable consumer would consider prerecorded telemarketing messages to be coercive or abusive of such consumer’s right to privacy.”
The problem is the original Do Not Call law has a loophole for charities, political organizations and telephone surveyors (arguably just favored subcontractors of the politicians). They can still call you without restriction. Charities don’t bother me as they’re generally sensitive about not pissing off potential donors. The problem is the politicians who have embraced robocalls in a huge way. My pre-dawn robocall was political. We were getting several a day in the run-up to the last election.
Given I’ve said I don’t want to be called and our government is already on the record that a “reasonable consumer would consider prerecorded telemarketing messages to be coercive or abusive”, how about we close the loophole and make political organizations subject to both the Do Not Call act and the ban on robocalls? I am happy to allow political calls by a live person and the lonely or bored are welcome to opt-in for robocalls.
Unsolicited calls from anyone are annoying and all the more so when you’ve already signed up for the Do Not Call registry. It is reprehensible but not surprising that the political class has exempted themselves from laws they apply to everyone else. You’d hope in this time of intense focus on creating jobs, politicians will feel the heat for replacing humans with a machine. Never mind that many of these calls are outsourced to other states (they often have a 202 area code) or perhaps even other countries (gasp!).
I see three options:
- Amend the law – we need a politician to show some political courage and get this done at the Federal or state level. I’m not holding my breath but grandstanders looking for a popular issue could do far worse.
- Bypass the politicians – banning robocalls by politicians would make a great referendum at the state level. All those calls for you to vote against would be the best advertising for the ban.
- Retaliate in kind – I could imagine a new service that lets you sic your own robodialer on the people who were nice enough to target you. Surely the irritation could motivate some small transaction fee. You could choose from a standard set of (long-winded) messages or record your own.