Groups Worry New Text Message Spam Filters Aren't Being Built Transparently, Could Harm Legit Outreach Efforts

from the i-don't-trust-your-trust-score dept

As we noted recently, the wireless industry has been developing a new “trust score” to determine who is or isn’t worthy of being able to send text message spam. 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 problem: a growing roster of groups are worried about the transparency of the process, noting that the Milan-based company (Kaleyra) running this new “Campaign Registry” hasn’t been forthcoming or consistent when it comes to details of the system, launching in June.

Text messaging campaigns remain hugely effective, with 90 percent of text messages are read within 3 minutes. But a chorus of groups from Sierra Club to Planned Parenthood are growing increasingly worried that the overall system, dubbed 10DLC, could result in many of them losing their ability to engage in outreach:

“In recent weeks, a coalition of liberal and progressive advocacy groups have mounted a campaign to put the brakes on 10DLC, rejecting the characterization of their messages as spam and raising concerns that the blunt 10DLC rules will hamper one of their most effective organizing tools. The opaque registration and vetting process, the groups warn, could lead to discrimination against smaller organizations with less-established track records, as well as overwhelm them with new and higher fees.”

With companies like AT&T at the helm of decision making on the issue, you should be able to understand their concern given AT&T’s long, dodgy history. Particularly when it comes to the process being non-transparently hijacked to limit communications on issues not particularly near and dear to AT&T and friends hearts, like labor organizing:

“Though AT&T and T-Mobile claim 10DLC is intended to reduce unwanted text messages, these restrictions in actuality will quash grassroots advocacy, labor union organizing, and progressive movement building,? the letter states. ?We strongly urge AT&T and T-Mobile to reconsider the damage that 10DLC will cause. We are also calling on leaders in Washington to exercise your executive and legislative authority to defend citizen engagement and call on AT&T and T-Mobile to reverse these restrictions.”

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.

Ideally you’d like a government agency like the FCC or Congress to transparently develop rules in open collaboration with consumers, stakeholders, and experts adequately represented. Instead, you’ve got a coalition of private companies with dodgy track records working on non-transparent “trust scores” that could limit the impact and outreach of countless organizations, regardless of party. For example, if the trust score is dictated by arrest records, would that mean activist groups whose members are often arrested at peaceful protests would suddenly find themselves labeled too problematic to verify?

“While the details of the trust scoring system are not well understood, it?s been likened to running a credit score on each group. ?They could be looking at things like a group?s personal tax history, members? criminal histories, they could also be googling to find groups associated with people they deem unsavory,? said Don Calloway, founder of the National Voter Protection Action Fund, which uses peer-to-peer messaging to combat voter suppression. ?Grassroots orgs have members who get arrested all the time in peaceful protests.”

The fact that many of these groups don’t know how this trust score is being calculated just months before launch speaks for itself.

This being the wireless industry, there’s also the threat that they could view this entire system as yet another revenue model, unfairly saddling less affluent organizations with fees and surcharges they won’t be able to afford. As such, you can see how letting the wireless industry lead the show could result in its two major concerns (avoiding liability, generating revenue) driving most decision making processes. While it’s certainly possible many of these worst-case scenarios won’t come to pass, given the history of the telecom industry, and the total lack of regulatory oversight at the moment, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.

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Companies: at&t

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Comments on “Groups Worry New Text Message Spam Filters Aren't Being Built Transparently, Could Harm Legit Outreach Efforts”

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21 Comments
Christenson says:

Masnick's Impossibility Theorem Strikes

Whether that text from Planned Parenthood or the Republican Party or your favorite political whipping boy or darling or even my neighborhood social association or the Red Cross is actionable spam to my phone is very much a moderation question that very much depends on who I am.

Heck, I’m pretty sure ProPublica can put me in touch with a researcher who wants all of it on one of his phones, just to study the ecosystem.

I think that means that a central decision on who is allowed to send a lot of texts will never be good…not only because there’s some fundamental disagreement, but also because it’s a lot like e-mail, and, once a certain volume is reached, all that responsiveness breaks down.

Anonymous Coward says:

But apparently some outfits should be able to leave a ringless voicemail. That’s still currently dead though, right?

Given the shady companies in the SMS number business, actual SMS and call scammers, and telco willingness to allow spoofing numbers and actually leasing blocks of numers to scam outfits, including those overseas, i think they have some other issues to engage with besides deciding whether some smaller political group or other is worthy of sending messages.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Damien says:

This one is easy. Did I sign up to receive the text messages? If not, it’s spam, I don’t care who it’s from, and I have no problem seeing it blocked. As far as I’m concerned if it’s not an emergency broadcast anything that’s not requested shouldn’t be sent.

sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Define "emergency". So far, I’ve been asked to keep an eye out for a lost little girl – in another county; a stolen Honda – that just crashed 125 miles away from me, in a police chase; and an escaped convict – on the other side of the state (some 300 miles from me). Do those count as emergency alerts? Not in my book they don’t. Not even a tsunami alert, because I live more than 100 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, with a full set of mountains between me and the coast.

But otherwise, I agree with you in that the default setting should be that the user is fully opted out, and needs to jump through a hoop or two in order opt in, and this is important: to any part of the system, not just all or nothing.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

We quickly solved these problems by doing 1 simple trick, we turned the entire world upon its head by defaulting to opt out instead of opt in.

A pots line during election season ringing off the damn hook, now some of you might not understand that I MIGHT be the least republican leaning person, but 15 messages a day paid for by the republican party on the answering machine annoys the shit out of me. But in the single dimensional thinking, Congress made the law not apply to political things.

If I so loved the Republican party that I wanted daily blasts of misinformation & fear mongering on my phone, asking me to sign up shouldn’t be seen as a hurdle.

But there is money being made by corporations getting profits by allowing it to happen & dragging their feet to stop it from happening.

The sum of human knowledge at my fingertips & somehow we can’t manage to create a system that uses technology to end spam texts & let people sign up for what they want to get news about… This isn’t backdoors in encryption hard or controversial, this is corporate profits well ahead of any concern for us.

They could fix this, but well its more profitable to keep it going pretending that they just don’t have the power to control their networks.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

For every election for the past 8 years, I’ve received dozens of spam text messages from the Democratic party in my state. Despite the fact that I wasn’t registered to vote, every time they claimed they got my phone number from voter registration records. The kicker is they couldn’t decide what name to call me…I would get messages minutes apart addressing me as either Diamond or Laqueshia. Every time I complained, ai was told my number would be removed from the list, but it nevet was.

Anonymous Coward says:

I am absolutely tired of spam calls and text messages. To me these yellow alerts you can’t turn off amount to the same thing.

Mostly the robocall blocker stops the spam calls but what it doesn’t stop is the missed call function you can’t turn off on your phone.

I’m tired of being woken up with a spam call missed and the phone chiming over a missed call. So I put the phone in the computer room where I’m not sleeping. Only then the missed call goes on for hours, draining the battery. Since there are only so many charges in a battery, that means I’ve already had to replace a worn out battery over them.

I’ve reached the point that to save having to buy yet another battery it’s easier to just turn the phone off until I’m ready to use it.

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Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Sure. Define "spam"

That is easy. Unsolicited electronic communication. That includes such things as

  • unsolicited commercial e-mail
  • unsolicited commercial text messages
  • unsolicited commercial voice calls
  • those guys in India who want my credit card info
  • people who want me to vote for their candidates
  • people who want me to join their class action
  • those “save on electric” solar scammers

and a whole bunch of others from whom I have not heard as recently.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I say “yes I did” [to amazon / iphone scam calls] and they hang up!

Personally, I like to get to the human, and invite them to come by the office tomorrow afternoon. Whereupon I will pull their heads off and relieve myself down their throats, and place their heads on spikes out front as examples to the other smelly little scammers in their fetid boiler rooms.

The credit card scammers get particular pleasure from this option if I first lead them down the path with a plausible sounding but entirely fake number. Read slowly and in a low voice, with some stumbling and back-tracking to drag it out. I had one actually ask me are you totally wasting my time?'' I had another get stuck in a loop repeating an unclean suggestion until I had to tell himThank you for playing” and hang up.

My offer may also include details of a discount price of $150 if fully paid in advance.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Oh, but how I love to troll the scammers.
I have so much fun. Usually the game ends when someone else in the room breaks out laughing.

My longest record so far is nearly 2 hours of playing on my XP test computer with team view. Before they figured out I gave them a static recreation of a fictional bank account.

I give them a blanket credit card number I know to be inactive (it’s mine listed to a 15 year old closed business) since my bank doesn’t repeat card numbers.
I can go for quite some time in dragging them on before they catch on.
I’ve been Jack Mehoff, Jack Injill, Peter Likencooters, etc! Lol.

I’ve traced most of these calls, texts, to 5 call centres with 2 major groups at play.
Both have, er, higher ups? that know me and if they patch in will tell the speaker to end the call.

One of these guys offered me a 4 way with him, his wife, and his “hot daughter with big brown nipple boobs”. To which I replied with I can be there in 48 hours, your address is [redacted]?
He hung up.

The other guy has taken to nicknaming me “the rascal”.

I consider it my civic duty. The longer they’re on with me the longer they’re not screwing over someone else.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Actually not a bad idea. If the guy who offered me his wife and daughter for sexual pleasure ever showed up on my doorstep I’d force him to live up to the offer. As long as they were willing.
Actually I’d be surprised if they weren’t. If you offer the women of the household for cash there’s something not working in your marriage so stealing your wife and daughter shouldn’t be all that hard.
3 words and they’re both mine
I
Go
Down.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

I just got a text message the other day from some brainwashed org asking me to demand repeal of the filibuster to pass legislation that destroys the second amendment.
I politely pointed out that people kill people. Not guns. Removing a firearm from the hands of law abiding citizens doesn’t change anything other than guarantee that those in danger can’t defend themselves. The criminals will find whatever they must to commit crimes.

These ultra left false advertising campaigns NEED to be stopped.
The public needs to be protected from these misinformation campaigns!

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