from the your-car-warranty-has-expired dept
We’ve noted several times how there are a few reasons why the U.S. government can’t get a handle on robocalls, despite big announcements every six months or so about how they’re cracking down on the practice and really mean it this time.
One of the biggest reasons is that neither the discourse, nor our solutions, generally make it clear that the biggest robocallers are “legitimate companies.” The focus for agencies like the FCC (something marketing, telecoms, banks, and others encourage) is generally and somehow exclusively on “scammers.” But scammers routinely make up the minority of robocalls:
But we’re not really tackling truly illegal, scam robocalls either. Every single month U.S. residents receive an estimated 4 billion robocalls. About a billion of those are illegal, outright scammers. That’s more than 33 million illegal scam robocalls every day. As a result, 70% of Americans no longer answer the phone if it’s an unrecognized number. We’ve just ceded a major tech platform to scumbags.
The National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) has spent years providing insights and solutions on this problem. They’ve issued a new report that’s worth a read if you’re at all curious why we’ve allowed a major communications platform to be hijacked by garbage merchants and snake oil salesmen.
The group has testified for years how numerous industries have lobbied to ensure robocall rules have vast loopholes, so their own harassment of consumers (using many of the same tools “scammers” use) isn’t included in any solution. This of course includes debt collectors, who have been shown to harass people they already know can’t pay with sometimes hundreds of calls per day.
The report also notes that the federal government routinely fails to hold major telecom providers accountable for doing too little (or nothing) to thwart specifically illegal, scam robocalls:
Even when these providers are told—sometimes repeatedly—that they are transmitting fraudulent calls, they keep doing it, because they are making money from these calls. And even when they are caught and told to stop, they are not criminally prosecuted, and the fines that are levied are rarely collected. FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks has noted this counterproductive dynamic regarding robocalls: “[I]llegal robocalls will continue so long as those initiating and facilitating them can get away with and profit from it.”
Companies like AT&T have a long, rich history of turning a blind eye to the various scams on their networks, almost always because the company is getting a cut. The fines levied are usually a small fraction of the money that’s been gleaned over decades, and the vast, vast majority of FTC and FCC fines on this subject are never collected at all.
Again, the full report (pdf) makes it clear there’s a lot of reasons and a lot of culprits when it comes to U.S. robocall hell. And while there has been a good amount of progress on some fronts (requiring the application of SHAKEN/STIR tech to thwart number spoofing, for example) regulatory fecklessness and an unwillingness to play hardball with industry routinely raises its head:
for more than two years, the Commission has made it clear that it expects providers to couple STIR/SHAKEN (or other “reasonable measures” of call authentication) with reasonable use of call analytics, and that providers are permitted (but not required) to block calls likely to be illegal.116 In so doing, the Commission has placed the emphasis on reasonableness and provider discretion, rather than on effectiveness at actually stopping robocalls.
The report makes it repeatedly clear that the FCC, under both parties, likes to push forth solutions that are generally reactive and toothless, with enforcement to match. On page 26 the NCLC provides concrete steps to fix the problem; though if history is any indication they’ll be ignored.