The Scourge of Robocalls

Wired recently chronicled the rise of robocalls. In the piece, you learn that Americans got “47.8 billion robocalls in 2018” or roughly “200 per year for every adult,” and in 2019, it looks like those numbers will be much higher. It is not going away. Much of it has been enabled by open source software, cheap calling and the rise of Voice over Internet Protocol. Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of Wired, tweeted that one could fight robocalls by joining the Do Not Call registry, reporting spam calls to FCC, and getting an app that helps block the calls.

Unfortunately, as outlined in the Wired story, that doesn’t work.

“The technology has gotten so inexpensive that any person can become a robocaller overnight,” Ian Barlow, who coordinates the FTC’s Do Not Call program, told the magazine. “It’s easy, it’s accessible, and there are no barriers to entry.” If one robocall operation is shut down, many others pop up. So, it is no surprise that our phone numbers are being rendered worthless.

As far as I am concerned, this is spam and should be handled as such. Junk mail is the responsibility of email platforms, and some platform providers, like Google, do a great job of protecting us from it. Similarly, phone companies should be responsible for blocking and tackling robocalls. They should want to do this, since, in theory, it depreciates the value of their platform. Though, I recognize that they are not alone in their dereliction of duty. Fake news is the spam of the social media platforms, and those companies do very little to prevent it from spreading like wildfire.

Clearly, phone companies have the technology to block many of these calls, but they won’t do it for free. They have no incentive to stop the calls because they profit from it. They can charge me $5 in “call blocking fees” every month if I get their app. You know it is a racket, and it is allowed to continue with protection from our legislators, who get a lot of lobbying dollars from the likes of AT&T and Verizon. Meanwhile, the FCC’s job is to keep phone companies and cable companies happy, not safeguard the interests of American people. I keep saying that again and again.

This first appeared on my April 14, 2019, weekly newsletter. If you like to get this delivered to your inbox, just sign-up here, and I will take care of the rest.

A letter from Om

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