Wireless Industry Eyes Nontransparent 'Trust Score' To Determine Who Can Market Via Text Message

from the this-could-easily-go-south dept

Though text messaging is starting to look somewhat archaic in the WhatsApp era, it’s still the most effective way for political campaigns and nonprofits to reach their target audience, in part because 90 percent of text messages are read within 3 minutes. But the collision between wanting to allow these organizations to market their candidates and campaigns — and protecting consumers from an ever-steady array of scammers, spoofers, and text messaging spammers — has proven to be a cumbersome dance of dysfunction.

The latest chapter in this saga: wireless carriers say they’re working on a new system that would give each organization looking to send text messages a shiny new trust score. So far wireless carriers aren’t saying how this trust score would be determined, but those who don’t rank highly enough on the scale won’t be able to send text messages en masse. The system is being contemplated after the 2020 election saw no shortage of text messaging spam that wireless subscribers found it difficult — if not impossible — to properly opt out of.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 is a dated piece of befuddling legislation that’s been interpreted to mean that you can’t send unsolicited text message spam en masse. But marketers and political campaigns have long wiggled around the restrictions via P2P text message efforts, which still let you send blanket text message campaigns — just somewhat individually via pre-scripted templates. These efforts were ramped up by the Sanders campaign, and were even more heavily embraced by the Trump campaign.

Wireless carriers want to make sure customers don’t get annoyed and leave, but they also want to ensure they won’t be held liable under the TCPA. At the same time, many political organizations are understandably a bit nervous about companies like AT&T determining who is or isn’t trustworthy in a way that probably won’t be transparent:

“The possible crackdown by AT&T and T-Mobile is causing an uproar among progressive organizers who say the system is ripe for abuse. Organizers say the scores will be based on an undisclosed formula without any real possibility for appeal, raising the prospect for algorithmic bias, and that one third-party vendor handling the trust scores has ties to a major donor to former President Donald Trump.”

Eighteen groups, including Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, and the NAACP signed a letter to Democratic lawmakers and the Biden administration asking them to intervene, but there’s been no response yet. And there’s likely not going to be a response because wireless carriers are stuck between a rock and a hard place here. Consumers are drowning in robocalls and text message spam, and these companies don’t want to be held liable for doing too little under the TCPA. At the same time, these organizations are probably right to be nervous about these scores being determined in a nontransparent way.

A new organization dubbed the “Campaign Registry” will be overseeing the new score system. It’s a subsidiary of a Milan-based company named Kaleyra. But nonprofit organizers say they’ve heard absolutely no information on how Campaign Registry will determine scores, despite the fact the system is set to go live just around three months from now:

?I would have extensive questions about what?s going to go into the trust scores,? Cleaver said. ?Who?s going to determine the algorithm? What?s going to go into it? What is the process going to be if you want to appeal it?? She said VoteAmerica is already a federally approved nonpartisan charity for tax purposes and that the carriers should work from that basis. ?The idea of the telecommunications companies assigning trust scores to registered nonprofits is laughable given their long history of exploiting and mistreating consumers,? she said.

When you look at AT&T’s misbehavior track record, you have to think she has a point. But given this is genuinely about reducing the burden on consumers in terms of text message spam, I tend to think this system isn’t the worst idea in the world. But that’s only if carriers and the Campaign Registry maintain transparency as to how the algorithm is determining trust, and US regulators are ready and willing to step in if the system isn’t transparent or is being abused. Given how much political power the companies building the system have, neither of those things are sure bets.

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Comments on “Wireless Industry Eyes Nontransparent 'Trust Score' To Determine Who Can Market Via Text Message”

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Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Sometimes–but rarely–the phone numbers that isn’t on your phone is legitimate and from somebody you want to call you. Still, like I said, they’re the exception to the rule. That being said, that very exception is why I don’t auto-block the number that’s on my phone. What I do instead is add the number to a "Scam Likely" contact which I could just ignore.

Anonymous Coward says:

Fuck that

Being willing to spam people automatically makes you "untrustworthy", so any meaningful "trust score" would go to zero if you did it.

The right system here is "nobody gets to send mass text messages, period, and you lose your service permanently if you send them or facilitate their being sent". And I’m OK if the carriers gossip among themselves to make sure you don’t get new service. Of course, it has to apply to bad-actor carriers as well.

If that shuts down somebody’s political campaign, good.

It’s nice and transparent, too.

Anonymous Coward says:

I have Do Not Disturb on my Android phone so I only get texts from people in my Contacts. I get phone calls — they don’t ring but someone can leave a message. I do sometimes miss something important but overall my life is much happier.
One thing I wish they would change is allow calls from numbers I have called out to.

Great_Scott (profile) says:

Re: Do Not Disturb

For people that don’t have a work need for SMS messages, it might make sense to cut out the various coping methods and simply turn them off at the wireless account level.

If someone needs to get a hold of me, they can call (haha), GChat (whatever it’s called this week), Discord, Skype, FB message, or something else I probably had to get for that once person.

Those services don’t spam people with mass messages, so that’s all I use.

Koby (profile) says:

Game The System

Some rating systems are designed to be non-transparent in an attempt to prevent them from being gamed. The FICO credit score system is proprietary, and google has kept its search engine algorithm secret in an attempt to lower the effectiveness of SEO. Of course, folks have mostly figured out how these systems work anyhow. But it’s unsurprising that another rating system with potential adversaries would want to remain opaque, even if it won’t remain secret in the long run.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Game The System

"Some rating systems are designed to be non-transparent in an attempt to prevent them from being gamed"

So, you support the gaming of systems, thus making them useless for the job they are intended to perform?

"google has kept its search engine algorithm secret in an attempt to lower the effectiveness of SEO"

The algorithm that has to change constantly as shady SEO "experts" keep finding ways to game it and make it far less useful for the people actually trying to search? Yeah, there’s reasons for that…

Anonymous Coward says:

Sadly, as long as they can get more money from marketing companies (legitimate or not) to spam us than they get from their actual customers, there probably isn’t ever going to be any real movement toward getting rid of all this crap.

Every single spam text I receive gets immediately reported. Who knows whether that makes any difference, but if I have to put up with the constant spam then they’re going to have to put up with the constant reports.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Just because the industry propped up cramming for years & years to have another revenue stream is no reason to think that THIS time they’ll use this to screw us to make a buck.

I mean they still charge a premium to have callerID on pots lines, when they know its constantly gamed & they get paid as scammers pick up yet another set of lines to abuse.

John85851 (profile) says:

How to fight back

Whenever I get an unsolicited text, I:

  • Forward it to 7726, which is the spam text reporting service for most carriers. Check your phone instructions for how to forward a text.
  • Block the number on your phone.
  • Report the number to call-screening services like Hiya, MyNumber, etc.
  • Report the number to the FTC Do Not Call List and your state’s do not call list.
    As more people report the numbers, these sites will build up a database of spam-text numbers and will be more likely to flag the call.

And if you flag spam from legitimate sources that don’t have your permission to text you, those places won’t be able to send any more texts. Granted, MoveOn.org or sign-the-petition sites might have a political exemption to send texts, but again, if enough people flag their texts as spam, then more people will get warned, and their texts won’t get read.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: How to fight back

This doesn’t work.

Something something call on my POTS line from myself.
Caller ID claims the call is coming from inside the house, but its unpossible.

The system is wide open for abuse, and they have no motivation to do anything about it.
We pay them to tell us who is calling, the other team pays them to let them pretend to be other people.

I’m the last person to support the idea of lets hold the 3rd party responsible for the actions of others, but they are charging us to provide us with information that can be faked & then have the gall to offer an extra service, for a fee, that claims to protect you from fake callers that they could stop if they put any effort into it, but the fees mean more.

Anonymous Coward says:

The solution is simple: Don’t get a phone number!

A phone number, tied to a SIM card, tied to a phone, is only a way to track you.

The transition from landlines to cell phones is almost over. So, why do you even need a phone number when there are so many messaging services available?

Unless you spend long periods of time away from a WiFi hotspot, you can rely on messaging software.

Keep your WiFi off when not in use. (Are you so important that you need to be constantly available?)

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"A phone number, tied to a SIM card, tied to a phone, is only a way to track you."

A way to track you sure. You have a couple of other ways built into your phone, including your phone’s GPS, wifi and various other apps. Some messaging services require a phone number to sign up.

" So, why do you even need a phone number when there are so many messaging services available?"

Messaging services are only useful if you’re in contact with people using the same messaging service. The only commonly available contact method that the majority of people are reliably known to have is a phone number. Everything else has less users.

"(Are you so important that you need to be constantly available?)"

Many gainfully employed individuals do, yes. You might not be employed or have a job that requires you to be available while on the clock, but millions of people don’t have that luxury.

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