RNC, Chamber Of Commerce Want Robocallers To Be Able To Spam Your Voicemail Without Your Phone Ringing

from the the-evolution-of-annoyance dept

The GOP’s leading campaign and fundraising arm, the Republican National Committee, has thrown its support behind an initiative that could allow marketing firms and robocallers to spam your voicemail inbox -- without your phone ever ringing. Under former FCC boss Tom Wheeler, the agency notably ramped up its assault on annoying robocalls. That included some particularly notable pressure on AT&T, which for years had provided a rotating crop of excuses as to why its customers continued to get hammered by phone marketers even if included on the National Do Not Call Registry.

Under current law, marketers aren't allowed to annoy you via your cellular phone unless you give your express, written consent. In the hopes of boosting revenues without running afoul of the law, the industry has begun pushing for exemptions in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act for "ringless voicemail," which would allow a company to leave you a marketing message in your voicemail, without your phone ringing. Of course you'd be hard-pressed to find a single consumer that thinks this is a good idea, which is apparently why the current FCC is exploring precisely this option:

"Back in March, a marketing firm called All About the Message LLC specifically asked the telecom agency to issue a ruling on the legality of its “ringless voicemail” technology. In its petition, the company said it doesn’t cause “disruptions to a consumer’s life,” such as “dead air calls, calls interrupting consumers at inconvenient times, or delivery charges.” And it stressed that its technology isn’t even a “call” by conventional standards."

In comments filed with the FCC (pdf), the RNC effectively warns the FCC not to stand in the way of its quest for ringless voicemail spam, and tries to argue that blocking such marketing is somehow an assault on the First Amendment:

Political speech is "at the very core of the First Amendment," and subjecting direct-tovoicemail political messages to the TCPA would unnecessarily and improperly restrict that speech. It is a basic canon of constitutional law that the government may not restrict constitutionally protected speech unless “it chooses the least restrictive means to further [a compelling] interest. While the government may have an interest in protecting individuals from unwanted and intrusive phone calls, direct-to-voicemail messages are designed to be nonintrusive so as not to interrupt the recipient.

Again though, this ignores the fact that consumers themselves would still have to clean up their voicemail box of additional spam, and don't want this added nuisance. The effort also runs in stark contrast to recent FCC efforts to actually reduce the level of marketing annoyance most wireless subscribers currently face. In its own filing with the FCC, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce tried to argue that existing consumer protections provided under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act are "archaic" and stifle the evolution of new, (annoying) technologies:

"The Commission cannot continue to sweep new technologies into this technologically-archaic statute. The language in Section 227(b) reflects a compromise by Congress. The Commission should stop undoing this compromise by expanding the reach of the TCPA into new technologies that Congress has yet to consider, weigh, and assess, so as to ascertain whether those technologies should be unlawful and to determine what penalty should attach to their use."

Whether you want to have a voicemail inbox magically filled with political missives, ads for mattresses and assorted other sales pitches apparently doesn't even enter into the equation. If you'd like to share your thoughts with the FCC on this subject, you can find and comment on the particular proceeding in question, here.


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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 12:00pm

    A way to be OK

    I want my mailbox filled with beer, specifically IPA's, a wide variety of them. No messages for beer, beer itself. Oh, and sender pays, both for the minutes and the bandwidth zero rating...and the beer. I will happily take care of cleaning the mailbox up myself.

    Oh...wait...I don't have a phone. Could they send it to my dead tree mailbox?

    not /s, but then I have no expectations of compliance either.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    E., 24 May 2017 @ 12:03pm

    How about no?

    Spam is still spam, telemarketing is still telemarketing. So find something better to do, RNC and Co.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 12:09pm

      Re: How about no?

      It seems their interpretation of free speech is that not only can they stand in the public square and spew their rhetoric, but they can force you to stand there and listen. Shove it down your throat, in other words.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        William Braunfeld (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 1:08pm

        Re: Re: How about no?

        They are making the same mistake that so many people on the internet make: freedom of speech does not mean you can compel a platform to host your speech. Voicemail inboxes are NOT a public location.
        Wish we could get a class-action lawsuit going for harassment... alas.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Mike Brown (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 1:24pm

          Re: Re: Re: How about no?

          Amen. It's a "Do Not Call" registry. Do Not Call. Those are three small words, and their meaning isn't particularly difficult for even small children to grasp. If we wanted a "Do Not RING" registry, we would have called it that. Do we have to create a "Do Not Contact, not-by-any-means-at-all-this-means-you" registry now?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2017 @ 1:36pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: How about no?

            Add to that a do not track and collect collect any data either, except the minimum necessary when a sale is being made.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Mason Wheeler (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 2:44pm

        Re: Re: How about no?

        It seems their interpretation of free speech is that not only can they stand in the public square and spew their rhetoric, but they can force you to stand there and listen. Shove it down your throat, in other words.

        Well, these are the guys who defend the Citizens United ruling on free-speech grounds, so why should we be surprised to see this?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    ThatOneOtherGuy, 24 May 2017 @ 12:08pm

    Nobody vote for a single Republican (or Democtrat) candidate next election.

    For any position where an independent is available, vote independent, if not, vote for neither.

    Maybe then they'll get a clue.

    Personally, I'd file a harasment lawsuit against any organization that spams my voice-mail.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      sigalrm (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 12:22pm

      Re: Nobody vote for a single Republican (or Democtrat) candidate next election.

      You can also vote for the non-incumbent, assuming one is available.

      I've been doing that for years now. "Politician A is already in office? then vote for the other guy".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2017 @ 10:39pm

        Re: Re: Nobody vote for a single Republican (or Democtrat) candidate next election.

        And yet the parties aren't getting the message. Purposely so. The only way to get any real change is NOT TO CONTINUE what we are currently doing, that is, keeping the two main parties in office. Vote 3rd party.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 25 May 2017 @ 12:27pm

          Re: Re: Re: Nobody vote for a single Republican (or Democtrat) candidate next election.

          You expected any different?
          These people do not care about you, all they care about is themselves.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 1:24pm

      Re: Nobody vote for a single Republican (or Democtrat) candidate next election.

      If a public campaign were started to not vote for any politician making robo calls, I wonder if they would pay attention?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      R.H. (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 3:20pm

      Re: Nobody vote for a single Republican (or Democtrat) candidate next election.

      Many millions of people chose to vote for neither in 2016. You may have noticed that we now have a bit of an issue. Before we can aim for candidate reform we should probably aim for voting reform. First past the post tends to aggregate politicians into two parties.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 May 2017 @ 12:28pm

        Re: Re: Nobody vote for a single Republican (or Democtrat) candidate next election.

        I think that when "Neither" is the winner, there should be a reset and start over.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        William Braunfeld (profile), 25 May 2017 @ 5:22pm

        Re: Re: Nobody vote for a single Republican (or Democtrat) candidate next election.

        I would, instead, encourage people to go out and vote, but to write in No Confidence on their voting ballot. That's what I did in the previous election, and while I tried to convince others to do the same, I live in a hard democrat state, which was pretty solidly for Hillary.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 25 May 2017 @ 12:27am

      Re: Nobody vote for a single Republican (or Democtrat) candidate next election.

      Arguably, no Republican or Democrat candidate was voted into office last time already.

      My advice would be the opposite of yours: voting people caring about the Republic and Democracy into the office for a change. You might need to start at the primaries for that, assuming that the parties with the respective names are not broken beyond repair.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 24 May 2017 @ 12:10pm

    I think I have a great idea for a GoFundMe.
    Robocalling that just dials Adjit Pai, the RNC and anybody who thinks this is a good idea.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2017 @ 12:21pm

      Re:

      24/7

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2017 @ 2:41pm

      Re:

      Remind me to set up my call forwarding to forward any ringless voicemails directly to the FCC.

      Also, I pay for minutes while checking my voicemail from my phone. So they're going to be allowed to stuff my limited voicemail box with stuff I never asked for and don't want, so that the telco can charge me to remove it?

      I need to reconfigure Google Voice to direct ALL my calls by default I guess. Goodbye privacy.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        William Braunfeld (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 3:20pm

        Re: Re:

        They already do this with online ads, eating significantly into data caps. Seems likely the telcos are happy to support anything that lets them charge for more minutes.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Haywood (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 12:13pm

    I'm so happy now, that I never set up my voicemail.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2017 @ 12:16pm

    in an age of voip and other technologies, do they really think people would let them get away with this? I foresee the RNC getting mass robo-called via bot nets and other similar stuff.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2017 @ 12:18pm

    Finally a use for an elected rep's phone number...

    Looks like I'll be looking up his office number to start using when I fill out the "phone number" field in online forms.

    After all, the whole straight-to-voicemail thing is non-disruptive by their own admission, so it won't bother them or their staff.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    profssrfink (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 12:19pm

    how is this not considered a call?

    I can't imagine the person who said "wait, if it goes to their mailbox directly, it's not a call". WAT? Voicemail is a function of calling. "Sorry I couldn't speak to you, but I figured I'd make you listen to me anyways".

    Thank God for iPhone's visual voicemail. Swipe left to delete.

    That being said, dialing voicemail uses minutes on most plans. So legislators are allowing telemarketers to run up someone's bill just for the user to delete the voicemail. That is unless that has changed. I haven't paid for "minutes" in years. But I do remember using minutes to dial my voicemail.

    And to those that DON'T have visual voicemail, you're asking them to listen to potentially infinite voicemails to get to the actual voicemails that matter to them.

    What a crock of shit. What person would push for this legislation without having someone write blank checks in their name to do it for them? The answer is NOBODY. That being said, first person to find this legislator asshole's cell phone number should just spam the ever living fuck out of him until this legislation gets trashed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Daniel Audy (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 12:36pm

      Re: how is this not considered a call?

      Also problematic is that many plans have a maximum number of voicemails that they will store at a time. Without paying extra I'm limited to 25 which is fine for me since I only get a couple a month anyways and clear them out within a day or two but if advertisers can clog my inbox up with their unwanted garbage I'm going to be at my cap almost 100% of the time and never able to receive actual messages.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Reima Zadet (profile), 25 May 2017 @ 8:11am

      Re: how is this not considered a call?

      Also with the visual voice mail, I know Verizon used to have a charge for that service. I never used it but I am willing to bet they have some kind of creative accounting to charge you based on the number of voice mails transcribed. If not they probably scrape the translation and sell that information, which would increase the amount of other spam you will receive.

      No matter how you look at this it is an annoyance that we should not have to deal with.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Princess Layher, 24 May 2017 @ 12:42pm

    Help me Ajit Pai you're my only hope!

    "Help me Ajit Pai you're my only hope!"

    More depressing words are rarely uttered.

    Actually, the other hope we have is that he FCC bosses also have cellphones with voicemail too, and this plan may just annoy them into doing the right thing for consumers, as they are consumers as well.

    Of course they could just do like some of us and not set up voicemail boxes either.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Paul Clark, 24 May 2017 @ 12:45pm

    I just Thought of a New Consumer Service

    I think I will set up a company that spams the voicemail boxes of companies that spam voice mail boxes. It will be a web page that allows you to enter your phone number and the target phone number. There will be several auto generated email messages that are polite yet ramble on to the limit of the voice mail box. I

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 12:48pm

    If they are robo-calling for donations...

    .. I'm happy to send them the checks I get from all the Nigerian Princes...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Unanimous Cow Herd, 24 May 2017 @ 1:18pm

    Haha

    As one of those people whose "voice mail is not setup" (and never will be), I'm fine with this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anon Cow, 24 May 2017 @ 1:18pm

    If I won't listen to voicemails from an attractive woman who lets me put my penis in her, I'm sure as hell not listening to voicemails from a robocall.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      William Braunfeld (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 3:23pm

      Re:

      .....thanks for sharing...?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2017 @ 5:51pm

      Re:

      haha I also just delete my wife's voicemails without listening to them. I'll just ask her what she wanted when I call her back or talk to her later.

      After this, may just let it fill up and stay full.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 25 May 2017 @ 6:09am

        Re: Re:

        That's no way to talk about an attractive woman who lets you put your penis in her.

        I mean, this thread started out distasteful already but you are really piling it on.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2017 @ 1:28pm

    I've had a increase in robo callers since wheeler left.

    Since wheeler left, I get about 4 robo callers a week on my cell. It's already bad as these scumbags already smell blood in the water. This will just make it worse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 1:34pm

      Re: I've had a increase in robo callers since wheeler left.

      Do you have an Android phone? Does it have the Block Call or Report Spam options?

      Go to your dialer. Go to the call log. Find the spam number (it's the most recent call right after you hang up on a spammer) Press and hold on that log entry, a popup menu appears. Pick Block Call or Report Spam.

      After a few times, the calls start showing a red screen when the phone rings with a spam call. Then after continuing to report them as spam, they just stop completely.

      This is Rachael from Cardholder Services.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        R.H. (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 3:27pm

        Re: Re: I've had a increase in robo callers since wheeler left.

        In my area, they rotate numbers daily (sometimes more than once per day) so I'll get multiple identical voicemails in the same day. Also, the Android anti-spam method effectively does what this regulation would do, it sends telemarketers straight to voicemail so I end up dealing with them there. Once I block them there, I don't see voicemails from that number anymore but, number-spoofing, while illegal, is commonplace. I fear the day that they spoof the number of someone I actually know so I can't just block it outright.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        orbitalinsertion (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 3:31pm

        Re: Re: I've had a increase in robo callers since wheeler left.

        Report Spam is fine if you accepted Whitepages or whomever to have a copy of your contacts.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          R.H. (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 3:36pm

          Re: Re: Re: I've had a increase in robo callers since wheeler left.

          DannyB is talking about the feature built into the Google Dialer in, IIRC, Android 6+. So, you only have to be allowing Google to have a copy of your contacts and, if you're using the Google Dialer on an Android phone, you probably already are.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      orbitalinsertion (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 3:38pm

      Re: I've had a increase in robo callers since wheeler left.

      Yeah it was ramping up before then but got way worse after the guard changed.

      I get it on mobile and landline. Sure you can block them, but as you note below, they constantly change. And the scam callers don't ever seem to take a hit with the telcos somehow... Whether they are robospam, roboscam, or normal marketing ignoring Do Not Call, or "charities" that don't have to obey any rules and won't take a hint, or calls from Bill Myers in India who sees something wrong with your network.

      Yeah you can mitigate it, and gee somehow AT&T this month magically added 80 more block slots to their VOIP offering (up from 20) but that is a PITA anyway.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 1:32pm

    Help me Google you're my only hope!

    Android has call blocking. And you can report spam calls. I can personally report that it has been quite effective at stopping spam and robo calls. When the feature first appeared, I started reporting those calls right after I hung up. It is quite simple to do, just a few clicks. Then the spam calls started showing up with a red screen when they rang. Then they just quit calling altogether.

    I wonder if Android could have a capability to report spam voicemail messages in a similar way? Once enough people have reported the same message, from the same number, Google would block other people from getting the message at all.

    Another idea: Google could introduce their own voicemail system, independent of your mobile phone carrier. Such a system would be optional for people to use. But it could offer mass deletion of spam messages by recognizing the same audio of the message, even if it comes from different phone numbers than those reported.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      R.H. (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 3:34pm

      Re: Help me Google you're my only hope!

      Google has their own carrier-independent voicemail system. It's built into Google Voice (which I have) and their Google Fi MVNO. It has good anti-spam but, it only works with messages that can be read by their voice to text engine. Some marketers have gotten around this by including just enough static to confuse the system or by including large gaps before the voice starts to keep it from being sent to the spam folder. And, of course, there's the issue of spam false positives in a voicemail system to contend with.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jason, 24 May 2017 @ 1:40pm

    I think I see the logic in play here.

    If it's something they want to do, then it's not [an invasion of privacy/an intrusion/an annoyance/anticompetitive/overreaching/unconstitutional/tyrannical/dangerous] or whatever else people complain about. At all. Quite the contrary, freedom itself demands it.

    If it's something they don't want someone else to do, then it's all of those things. And it must be stopped, or it will destroy America.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 2:03pm

    The end of voicemail

    We're already seeing that people barely use voicemail at all any more (especially younger people). Texting has replaced voicemail for many. I rarely listen to my voicemails these days and know that many people never even set up their voicemail at all.

    I think if this becomes a thing... it will only be that much more likely that voicemail dies completely.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2017 @ 2:17pm

      Re: The end of voicemail

      ditto on this.

      I don't use it any more at work or privately. They can drop as much shit in my VM as they like I will not be listening to a damn thing.

      And like another said... I have visual voice mail too... I am only going to mass delete the rest.

      Need to setup a caller whitelist now.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2017 @ 2:19pm

      Re: The end of voicemail

      That was my thinking. What a wonderful plan to kill off voicemail!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2017 @ 7:39pm

      Re: The end of voicemail

      Ah come on... who doesn't want to be popular? Nothing says popular like "You have 143 new messages".
      Added bonus: You get to play the "Find the important messages from your customers/boss/family/friends" game that is so hip right now.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 May 2017 @ 12:11pm

      Re: The end of voicemail

      Where were you... the day the voicemail died?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    McGyver (profile), 24 May 2017 @ 2:21pm

    Yes RNC, do more to make everyone detest the Republican Party as much as friggin possible... May I suggest hiring mufflerless vans with huge loudspeakers to go through quite neighborhoods at 3 AM blaring your messages of political bliss... I think that's the edge you are looking for... Do it! Do it!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2017 @ 4:14pm

    This seems such a trivial problem to fix. (What's the phone number of your congresscritter again?)

    Under some layers of seared conscience and inflated ego, there is a germ of once-human nature even in the most assiduous status-seekers. Congresscritters are too exalted, perhaps, they can hire peasants to suffer the slings and arrows of fortune that would otherwise be theirs. But ... federal judges, now, that's a different issue altogether. And if the marketroids ever ever have to face a federal judge who's just cleared his phone of 2 vitally-important messages and 197 advertisements for eggs, extended auto warranties, Russian prostitutes, Nigerian investment opportunities--that last advertisement for Comcast cable service might be just the thing to put him into Judge-Ray-Bean mode.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Digitari, 24 May 2017 @ 5:08pm

    sorry I have to ask

    whats voicemail? is that like an answering machine thingy?


    (this is a response from 10 years in the future)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2017 @ 8:26pm

    The first amendment does not give someone the "right" to use my private property to facilitate their speech. My phone is mine, paid for entirely by the fees I pay the phone company.
    If I put up a No Trespassing sign at the end of my driveway, "free speech" of no sort gives someone the right to ignore it, and when I call the police to arrest the trespasser I fully expect them to haul that person off to jail even if they claim "political or religious speech".
    The very popular state and federal do not call lists are the telecom equivalent to no trespassing signs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2017 @ 8:27pm

    New VM Answer Message

    The Republican National Committee has legalized phone spam in the form of ringless voicemail. In response to this total disregard for consumer protections, I must defend my own interests by never again reviewing any voicemail message. Hope you're a Republican...if not, have a nice day.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 May 2017 @ 6:17am

    I wonder how long before the GOP bans call blocking functionality in phones?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 May 2017 @ 6:37am

    What we need to do is add a feature to voicemail that makes the person trying to leave a voicemail type in a code that is given to them when the voicemail picks up. This code could be randomized at each call. Phone captcha anyone?

    Quick! To the patent office!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 May 2017 @ 3:49pm

    This sounds a lot like ISPs' imaginary first-amendment right to inject ads into customers' net traffic.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 29 May 2017 @ 12:26pm

    Let this backfire

    If the RNC really wants this, then lets see what happens when their staffers have to deal with endless voicemails from spammers and telemarketers?
    Do the politicians not realize that their phone numbers are publicly displayed on all of the US government websites? Okay, sure, these are the office numbers, but still.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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