Ringless Spam (Voicemail)

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Maybe I am way too optimistic, but I refuse to believe that something as personally intrusive as ringless voicemail could ever be allowed for use by telemarketers. In case you haven't heard about this news story, there is a marketing firm called "All About the Message LLC" that is petitioning the FCC to allow the "ringless voicemail" cellular technology to be used by telemarketers. So what is ringless voicemail? Ringless voicemail is a feature that is built into most cell carrier's systems to allow someone (someone who knows your cell phone number) to leave you a voicemail without ever ringing your cell phone. An unsolicited message you can do absolutely nothing about...just like email spam. Except, its actually worse. With email you can setup filters and rules and block email senders, but since ringless voicemail is essentially a back door built into the cell carrier's systems we the end user have ZERO control over it.

So how would this work? If the FCC were to allow marketing groups (cough spammers) to use this technology to leave consumers messages they could essentially robo-dial your cell phone and leave you a large number of pre-recorded messages as voicemails without ever ringing your cell phone. You would just pick up your cell phone and suddenly you would have new voicemails. Lets take this one step further. Let's say you have debt collectors after you (or worse, you have a debt collection company that keeps calling you thinking you are someone else). That debt collection company could essentially fill up your voicemail with messages using an automated system essentially hijacking your voicemail and making it useless. So if you were to get, you know an actual important phone call and not be able to pick up the phone, the caller couldn't leave a message because your voicemail inbox is full.

Then there is the data side of the issue. These voicemails require data. So if you are NOT on wifi and you have to listen to or view and delete a bunch of these spam voicemails you are going to be chewing up your cellular data. Remember this is data that YOU are paying for, the sketchy companies leaving you all of these unwanted messages are doing this for free. I bring this up because one of the arguments that these telemarketing groups are using to push for this is freedom of speech. They are claiming that if they aren't allowed to do this it would be a violation of free speech. Maybe these guys don't missed the "free" part of the freedom of speech term. If they want to offer to pay my monthly cell phone bill for the privilege of having direct and unrestricted access to my voicemail inbox then I say let them make that offer. I'm sure quite a few people would love to take them up on that. But they want YOU to pay for them to have that access. Voicemail requires a cellular service and data, so it isn't free. So I can't see how they can argue freedom of speech. We aren't silencing them, they can speak all they want. They just can't do it without our permission. That would be like saying we are required to allow a total stranger into our house because he or she has something they want to say and we can't take away their freedom of speech. As US citizens we also have a right to privacy and allowing companies access to our voicemails would trounce all over it.

As with everything, there is another side to this story. The proponents to ringless voicemail say that it would reduce phone calls from telemarketers at dinner and it would give consumers who want targeted messages from companies a more direct and less disruptive way of receiving those messages. That does make at least some sense. After all, a ringing phone is very disruptive. But these companies have already shown they lack self control and respect (at least enough of them to give telemarketers a really bad name). If you give marketing companies uncontrolled access to our voicemail systems the will take advantage of it, all while we continue to pay for the data that enables that access.

So what's next? The FCC gave companies and individuals until today (Friday June 2 2017) to give them feedback on this proposal by All About the Message LLC. The Mac Observer has a short article that explains how to send a message to the FCC so you can give them your opinion about this proposal.

I love my smartphone, but if the FCC allows companies to spam my voicemail unchecked then I will be tossing my smartphone in the nearest pond and never looking back. Honestly, I can see something like this spurring a whole new industry or device. A connected smart device that is everything BUT a phone. A connected handheld tablet with a cellular data plan but no phone service. With Skype, audio only FaceTime and iMessage on an iPhone you really don't need a full cell phone anymore. So be careful FCC, you may unintentionally kill off an entire industry if you aren't careful.

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