• United States



FCC to publish weekly list of robocallers and robotexters

Oct 25, 20155 mins
Data and Information SecuritySecurity

The FCC plans to publish a list of robocall and robotext numbers received every week via consumer complaints so the data can be used by developers for call-blocking tools.

Don’t you hate it when you receive a spammy text message or an unwanted robocall or telemarketing call? The FCC said it received over 215,000 complaints from consumers last year, which averages out to about 590 per day. Last week, in its newest efforts to bring down the hammer on spammers, the FCC started releasing robocall and telemarketing consumer complaint data which will be updated every week; the purpose of such name/blame/shame weekly lists is “to help developers build and improve ‘do-not-disturb’ technologies that allow consumers to block or filter unwanted calls and texts.”

The FCC’s published list contains 9,803 complaints filed as of October 1, with more numbers to be added to the spreadsheet every week. Although the FCC “does not verify all of the facts alleged in these complaints,” the list includes data regarding the type of call, the number as identified by caller ID, the advertising business number, as well as the time and state where it was received. Not all data fields are filled out, but examples under types of robocalls and telemarketing included prerecorded voice, autodialed live voice, abandoned call, text messages and live voice.

Complaints about unwanted texts and calls are “by far the largest complaint category” received by the FCC. In August, the FCC brought down the hammer on Travel Club Marketing by imposing the largest fine yet, $2.96 million (pdf), for making 185 unsolicited calls to 142 people on the Do Not Call list.

“Consumers want and deserve effective tools to empower them to choose the calls and texts they receive,” said Alison Kutler, chief of the FCC’s bureau which manages consumer complaints. “This data will help improve do-not-disturb technologies so they can provide the best service for consumers. As we encourage providers to offer these services, and as the Commission recently made clear that there are no legal barriers to doing so, we continue to look for ways to help facilitate important consumer tools.”

When the FCC adopted a proposal to protect consumers against robocalls and spammy texts in June, it added “guidance on robocall blocking, autodialers, recycled phone numbers” and third-party consent – think overly permissive and nosey apps. Just because your phone number is listed in the contact list of an acquaintance does not mean you consented to receiving “robocalls from third-party applications downloaded by the acquaintance.” The robocall rulings also made it clear to phone companies that consumers have a right to block calls and texts.

When the FCC said it would start releasing a weekly spreadsheet of phone numbers belonging to robocallers and telemarketers, it touched on the June ruling that “gave the green light for do-not-disturb technology, clarifying that there are no legal barriers to service providers offering robocall-blocking technologies to consumers. While such services are available today as apps on some smartphones and on VoIP phone systems, work is still underway for many carriers and third-party providers to offer consumers these tools on traditional landline networks.”

You should know your rights regarding robocalls and robotexts. Unless you actually enjoy receiving voice and text spam, you should add your wireless and/or landline phone number to the national Do-Not-Call list; you can also check if your state offers a similar list. Ironically, the FCC via the FTC requires an email address when registering online for the Do-Not-Call list. You could opt to use a more disposable version than your primary email address. You receive an email and have 72 hours to click on the link and complete the registration. Alternatively, if you don’t want to link an email address to your phone number, you can call 1-888-382-1222 to add your phone number to the national Do-Not-Call list by punching in your phone number.

It could take up to 31 days for telemarketers to remove your number after registering it on the national don’t-call-or-text-me list. If you receive a spammy text or call after that time period, you can file a complaint online or by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC.

Even if you add your phone number to the do-not-call list, FCC rules still allow “calls or messages placed with your express prior permission, by or on behalf of a tax-exempt non-profit organization, or from a person or organization.” Otherwise, the FCC said, “Companies and telemarketers must have your express permission to call.”

The FCC’s rules on robocalls and robotexts state, in part, “All non-emergency robocalls, both telemarketing and informational, require a consumer’s permission to be made to a wireless phone. These calls can include political, polling, and other non-telemarketing robocalls….Robocalls either use a technology with the capacity to autodial or utilize a pre-recorded or artificial voice….Calls and text messages have the same protection under FCC rules.”

So the next time you get such a text or call, you should file a complaint online, or via your phone by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC and it will end up on the FCC’s published complaints.

The FCC is not alone in declaring war against robo-spaminators. Although the FTC has been fighting robocalls for years, it recently awarded a $25,000 grand prize for its Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back contest; the winning Robokiller app “relies on universally available call forwarding that works on both landline and mobile phones, and uses audio-fingerprint technology to identify robocalls.” It allows consumers to send robocalls to a SpamBox and offers consumer-controlled blacklist filtering.

Between the two agencies, let’s hope there are more apps and options to help consumers put a stop to unwanted calls and texts.

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.