The FCC Has Started Publicly Shaming Robocallers Weekly

from the playing-the-shame-game dept

While there’s been no limit of hand wringing from the grumpy grandpa corners of the Internet about the mean old “over-reaching” FCC, the agency has actually been making some good decisions lately. Reclassifying ISPs under Title II and passing tough net neutrality rules (which, contrary to chicken littles has been a good thing so far), stopping ISPs from buying state protectionist broadband law, cracking down on cramming, thwarting convention centers from blocking personal Wi-Fi so you’ll use their pricey services; there’s a lot of pro-consumer, pro innovation, pro-competition issues the FCC has woken up to after a fifteen year slumber.

And back in May the FCC announced (pdf) that it was taking aim at the number one issue consumers complain to the FCC about: robocalling. The FCC said it was considering new rules that would not only make it easier for consumers to opt out of marketing pitches via phone or SMS, but make it clear that voice and wireless carriers can offer new robocall-blocking services without violating call-completion rules. While ISPs like Sonic applauded the FCC’s plan, the agency was of course sued by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who claimed the FCC “overstepped its authority by creating new restrictions on legitimate, good faith communications from businesses to their customers.”

Undaunted by yet another lawsuit in its growing pile, the FCC has moved forward and announced it’s also going to start listing robocaller phone numbers every week to make it easier for consumers and services to blacklist them. That monthly data is now compiled here for your perusal each week, published as a downloadable CSV file. The FCC says its goal is to help streamline the war on dinner-interrupting robocallers:

“This data will help improve do-not-disturb technologies so they can provide the best service for consumers,? said Alison Kutler, chief of the FCC?s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, which manages consumer complaints. ?As we encourage providers to offer these services, and as the Commission recently made clear that there are no legal barriers to doing so, we continue to look for ways to help facilitate important consumer tools.”

Call blocking services like NomoRobo have applauded the move, noting that previously they needed to file time-consuming FOIA requests to obtain this data:

“For the past 2 years I have been advocating for all of the government organizations to report this data. And the push-back that we always get is well there?s personally identifiable information, what about the consumer, how do we protect the consumer, and what I?ve been saying is, listen we don?t need to know any consumer information. All that we need to know is what is the robocallers phone number. If we get that, that really helps us.”

Of course, this is just a step in the right direction, and not a killing blow. Most robocallers make heavy use of number spoofing technology, meaning that fighting robocalling will always be a massive game of Whac-a-Mole no matter what. The FCC’s going to need to remain vigilant in keeping the list up to date and accurate, since the organic response by robocallers will be to rotate faster than ever through spoofed numbers. Still, while no single solution is going to kill robocalling, the FCC’s overall actions of late should lend a hand. Meanwhile, consumers with a little extra free time on their hands can help by making robocalling less profitable and more annoying by checking out robocaller time wasters like Lenny.

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Comments on “The FCC Has Started Publicly Shaming Robocallers Weekly”

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29 Comments
Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Most robocallers make heavy use of number spoofing technology, meaning that fighting robocalling will always be a massive game of Whac-a-Mole no matter what.

You can make it a much less massive game by banning it. Calling anonymously is one thing, but pretending to have a different number than the number you have is something that I can’t think of any legitimate use for whatsoever. Can you?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Yes: a call center can have hundreds of phone lines, but they want you to call back to a central number, so that number is what goes on the caller ID. Calling the originating number would just get a busy signal.

So there’s pretty much the only legitimate use.

And because of the way Caller ID works, the number is ALWAYS faked — it’s just usually faked to be the number that is actually the originating number. The two systems are totally separate, and the Caller ID is set by the originator, not by the phone company. That’s why anyone with an Asterisk box (or anyone who owns their own PBX equipment) can set whatever they want on their Caller ID.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Law Enforcement
Domestic Abuse Shelters
Legitimate Call Centers
I am sure there are a couple others not popping to mind right now.

There are very few legitimate uses of spoofing, and it would be complicated to construct a framework for this. That being said trying to construct it and having some failures is way better than just throwing the hands up and saying can’t be done.

Money is being made selling caller id services & selling spoofing services so there is little interest on the business side of ending that income.

We have *69 to call back numbers, why not a star code to dial after an unwanted robocall that traps the actual information to track it back to the source. No more having to dial 1 during a recording to get on their do not call list for legitimate marketers and a compiled list of those doing wrong. No more filing a long complaint form online that won’t actually change anything, but instant filing of the data.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Law Enforcement
Domestic Abuse Shelters
Legitimate Call Centers

Why would these services have a legitimate reason for making their caller ID appear to be coming from somewhere else? I can see how they would have a legitimate reason, in certain circumstances, for not displaying any caller ID, (ie. anonymous calling, which I did say has legitimate uses,) but spoofing is a completely different thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Why would these services have a legitimate reason for making their caller ID appear to be coming from somewhere else?”

One example is that your outgoing and incoming calls are on different systems. It isn’t uncommon for sales and customer service departments to be geographically diverse. Outgoing calls come from sales, incoming go through customer service.

All that EVER had to be done to fix spoofing was copy the call setup information into the caller ID field on the PSTN switches, and that would prevent spoofing PERIOD. It is ONE line of code and always has been.

Tele-assault (robocalling) is a crime that has been MANDATED, into existence. It isn’t a matter of engineering. It is a matter of legislative endorsement and protection of simple assault. IMHO it is one of the more egregious rights granted by congress exclusively to corporate sovereigns.

Want to fix this? Start by voting for Bernie.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

That’s just PBX routing, and it’s very different from what robocallers are doing. One common (and highly abusive) trick, particularly from sleazy debt collectors, is to spoof their caller ID records to make it look like the call is coming from a relative so the person will see it as a trusted number and be sure to answer. That’s what spoofing is about. There is no legitimate use for it, and it really ought to be illegal.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

A suspect destroys their phone, and they need to intercept some calls or make some calls appearing to be the suspect.

Call centers presenting the main number instead of 1 of 1000 numbers assigned to them.

It is a tiny list for those who would need access to do that sort of thing, and limited use thereof. It should not be available outside of that limited framework.

POTS is not my forte, and it is possible I’m not understanding the difference (meaning) in the words used.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

…We have *69 to call back numbers, why not a star code to dial after an unwanted robocall that traps the actual information to track it back to the source…

My local telco has a star code to complain about the last call received but I’ve never used it. Why? Because they charge you for that! Why should I pay to file a complaint? Oh, and they have to have three complaints to initiate any action.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

If our regulators had a lick of sense, they never would have allowed the dinosaurs who ran 20th century landline phone services to morph into 21st century cellphone providers without completely overhauling their horrible systems and practices for the new technology. It’s very sad that it took this long to find a Wheeler who’d finally slap these bums around even as much as he has been able to, yet there’s still mountains of stuff left to be fixed. Lily Thomas made herself a household hero for her ludicrous send up of this stuff how long ago, yet look at what we’re still putting up with, and they’re still getting rich off it.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

There should not be a fee, and it should be submitted to the DoNotCall people to investigate.
If they are reporting a capture of the real information it still might take 3 complaints for them to move (we all know that one dumbass who wonders what the big red button is for, is told, is told not to press it unless, and then promptly presses it to see for themselves) to avoid false positives.

As it stands now we report the data from caller id strings that are manipulated, if they sent the real information action would happen sooner. I avoid many of the robodialers who call my landline, but if I knew I could answer, tell them do not call, then hang up, then hit a star code & press a button to designate if it was sales, scam, etc I’d probably answer the phone more.

As it stands now we have people blocking using apps or hardware on landlines but that data isn’t always shared and doesn’t do anything but keep them from reaching you on THAT spoofed number. A * report that turns over the actual information would keep them from reaching you because they got closed down.

Steve R. (profile) says:

Robocalls are not “… good faith communications from businesses to their customers. …”. Virtually every call “hides” who the true caller is. That dishonesty in itself demonstrates that they are not calling in “good faith”.

Furthermore, an overlooked issue, I am not paying the phone company to receive these calls. The phone companies and the FCC should be more proactive in stopping unsolicited phone calls.

The telemarketers who are cold-calling you are committing a tort on you. They are disrupting your life and are imposing a financial obligation (your phone bill) on you.

Christopher (profile) says:

Telcos are your real enemy.

“Most robocallers make heavy use of number spoofing technology, meaning that fighting robocalling will always be a massive game of Whac-a-Mole no matter what.”

It’s like that because Verizon, among others, makes money by supplying the arms in this arms race, Once CallerID was out in 1985, the next step was charging fees to block it, then fees to reveal it, then additional fees to SUPERBLOCK it. Also, telcos created CID, and they can certainly provide ANI instead and allow you to block that… but why stop the gravy train?

These are the same people that charge you a fee to pack data into signaling packets that they are shipping whether you use them or not. I hope the FCC goes after that next.

-C

OldGeezer (profile) says:

The do not call list is a joke and the government will never do much to stop these robo callers. I bought a Panasonic phone that can block up to 250 numbers. It can also block any unidentified callers. It won’t stop all of these annoying calls but it will hang up on repeat offenders. Some callers have called back more than a dozen times. I only have 3 relatives that might call me long distance so I usually don’t even answer. A good site to check out numbers out is http://800notes.com/ I’m retired so I sleep odd hours. Unless I’m expecting a call I turn the ringer off. I have a strobe flasher for when I am awake.

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Robocalling, or the act of using automated dialers and automated messages, is illegal. The trick is catching the companies using them, especially when they’re spoofing their number. Then once the company is caught, the second trick is prosecuting them, especially if they’re operating out of Russia, China, or India.

However, it seems like the solution to stopping robocalls is the same as stopping spam: people need to stop buying the products. As soon as robocallers and spammers realize it’s not profitable to do these things, then they’ll stop.

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