Robocalls Swamp Hospitals As The Trump FCC Pretends To Fix The Problem
from the spammed-to-death dept
Despite endless government initiatives and countless promises from the telecom sector, our national robocall hell continues. Robocalls from telemarketers continue to be the subject the FCC receives the most complaints about (200,000 complaints annually, making up 60% of all FCC complaints), and recent data from the Robocall Index indicates that the problem is only getting worse.
As robocallers get bolder, they’re increasingly targeting institutions like hospitals, often to a dangerous degree:
“At Tufts Medical Center, administrators registered more than 4,500 calls between about 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. on April 30, 2018, said Taylor Lehmann, the center?s chief information security officer. Many of the messages seemed to be the same: Speaking in Mandarin, an unknown voice threatened deportation unless the person who picked up the phone provided their personal information.”
Tufts’ phone provider, Windstream, informed the medical center there was nothing they could do. But the problem has spiked in recent months, and other medical professionals say legislators, corporations, and the FCC have been too slow in responding to the threat:
“Administrators at other hospitals, cancer centers and medical research organizations around the country share Tufts?s robocall concerns. They fret that such a seemingly obvious tech malady has worsened in recent months and that government regulators and phone companies have been too slow to help. And they fear that robocallers could eventually outmatch their best efforts to keep hospital phone lines free during emergencies, creating the conditions for a potential health crisis.”
As we just got done explaining, the Pai FCC has been getting a lot of press for what it claims is a bold, new plan to help rein in the robocall menace by “suggesting” that carriers offer free robocalling tools by default, and recommending that they quickly adopt call authentication technology to thwart spoofing (faking the originating call number). But the Pai FCC proposal isn’t actually new, and offers absolutely no penalty for carriers that fail to comply.
And while Ajit Pai has promised to hold carriers accountable if they don’t, there’s absolutely nothing in Pai’s tenure so far that suggests he’s actually capable of standing up to carriers. The press likes to beat around the bush on this front, but there are two major reasons this FCC hasn’t done more to thwart robocalls. One, carriers don’t want to have to pay for it, and the Pai FCC has proven to be a mindless rubber stamp to carrier interests. Two, a lot of “legitimate” telemarketing and debt collecting agencies utilize these exact same tactics, and the FCC doesn’t want to upset them either.
What we get as a result is a government that pays a lot of lip service to the problem, but doesn’t actually do much of anything for fear of upsetting campaign contributors in the telecom and marketing industries. They’re quick to go after smaller robocall players that are easy to prosecute, but they’re terrified of holding larger, legitimate companies accountable for their own role in failing to implement technologies that could have put the problem to bed years ago. Again because while a lot of “robocalls” are perpetuated by illegal scam operations, a lot of them are perpetuated by industries using the exact same tactics (this 2018 testimony by Margot Saunders (pdf) explains this in great detail) to harass and spam consumers.
As a result, the problem will only get worse until somebody in government grows a spine and mandates that all carriers must implement anti-spoofing tech and provide completely free robocall-blocking tools to consumers by default, giving consumers full control over who can call them and when. The problem is getting bad enough that even Ajit Pai may be forced to take a tougher stance against his BFFs in the marketing and telecom sectors, but that’s not a bet most would be willing to make anytime soon.