Do Not Call – What Part of That is Unclear?

imageNothing 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

It’s Microzilla Time

image It is time for Microsoft and Mozilla to make peace and together face their common enemy: Google.

For Mozilla, Google is both sole patron and now direct competitor, which is at best strategically awkward.  Firefox market share has plateaued.  They’re losing their status as the browser of choice amongst the cool kids to Chrome.  It is no longer the svelte and solid product it once was as lobbying seems increasingly prized at Mozilla above software development.  The idealistic fire burns low as the dog is not sure what to do after catching the car.

While Mozilla drifts, Microsoft, meanwhile, has a tremendous need to change the browser game.  Internet Explorer is getting bigger faster than it is getting better.  Attenuating market share loss does not constitute a winning strategy.  Instead of inflicting yet another column on the compatibility test matrix with a new rendering engine, why not just embrace Firefox?  At this point, Microsoft has acquiesced to the idea of cross-platform browser compatibility.  The browser anyway is just a container for Silverlight which is the real presentation strategy.  Mozilla can help propagate Silverlight as well as help with browser search defaults.  Mozilla executives are publicly expressing a preference for Bing despite their Google-funded paychecks, so cultivating Firefox users and the open source community more broadly is not nearly as crazy as it might have sounded even six months ago.

Microsoft has already paid almost $2.5 billion for the privilege of being required to ship Firefox and other browsers with Windows in Europe (who knew there were 12 “popular” browsers?).  And the company has gotten nothing out of strategic control of IE all the while butting heads with the EU.  Now that the (Fire)fox’s nose is through the Windows’ window (to butcher a metaphor badly), the renowned software designers of Brussels and their various friends (aka “Other” in most market share reports) are now hard at work trying to expand that toehold (and the scariest part of this for Microsoft should be the regulations starting entangle Office as part of this).

In yet another eerie Richard Nixon parallel, Microsoft has a history of surprise rapprochements with once bitter foes (Apple, Novell, Sun, arguably China and they’ll probably end up bailing IBM out one of these days…).  Why not add Mozilla to the list?  It not only costs little to let the wookie win, but it helps on multiple fronts of the new competitive landscape.  And maybe more importantly, is a powerful demonstration to the world just how much that landscape has shifted, all to Microsoft’s advantage amidst its metamorphosis from Evil Empire to benign-by-comparison former Evil Empire.

Just a thought.