•   about 8 years ago

Communication is the problem

When people don't report a problem, it is near impossible to fix it. The solution must be one the public can, and will, easily adopt.

My Suggested Procedure: Create an easy to remember number for people to text or call, such as 999, after they have received an unwelcome or potentially illegal call. By establishing protocols with the telecoms for them to automatically submit to a Federal database the last number their customer was contacted by when their customers text or call that number, significant outliers for registering complaints could then be easily identified and have their records pulled for further investigation.

The Government would more quickly identify which callers are harassing the public, the public gains a streamlined route to file complaints, and we all come out ahead for it.

Thoughts, potential problems, collaborations, or follow-ups to this suggestion?

(One point of clarification: There's no reason a caller would need to do anything save send a blank text or wait for one dial tone, making it a quick procedure requiring no additional interaction from the customer. I think that convenience would substantially increase uptake.)

  • 9 comments

  •   •   about 8 years ago

    *69 was the popular redial solution, what if you could press star and some numbers to report the last caller as a robo-call?

    This is the kind of systemic solution that would be great to play with, but I really have no idea how deep in the phone system these solutions are allowed to go, nor am I an expert on how phone numbers are connected.

    Is that type of idea a valid entry for this contest?

  •   •   about 8 years ago

    One other thing:

    I think it would be a much more publicly palatable system if instead of immediately identifying the account holders on every complaint submitted to the Federal database, telecoms should only report a unique identifier for the associated account. This would be a much more privacy respectful approach as there will no doubt be abuses issued by a small fraction of participants, as invariably always happens. Preventing the accumulation of private information needlessly would simply be good prudence. Waiting to have disclosed account holder's personal information only after a formal investigation has been issued seems to be the appropriate measure in this case.

  •   •   about 8 years ago

    @Daniel F,

    Who knows what they're considering formal submissions. It's a bit ambiguous, but I can't see how a person can produce a viable proof of concept without already being a telecom insider. Putting together a solution the public will adapt without it being built at the telecom's infrastructure level I can't imagine happening.

    Accordingly, I'd build a proof of concept of the idea I mentioned above myself but I don't see how I can gain access to the appropriate resources and specialists to pull that off. The above post is the closest thing I know of how to muster a formal submission otherwise at this point. If it ends up being the exact outline of what they wind up doing (the mnemonically friendly number they settle on being a variable), I might be making some phone calls asking for a consultation contract as a consolation prize in the least ;)

    *Edit:
    Oh, looks like there's a more formal submission process opening up in a few days. Hopefully I'll find to write up the above and submit it a bit more officiously.

  •   •   about 8 years ago

    Kenneth L,

    I thought of the exact same idea. The issue is:
    1) The caller ID can be faked.
    2) They can use multiple carriers to make their calls.
    3) They can register multiple shell companies to make the calls.

    I think either have like you said a national code that people can call after getting a call to log it. The problem with this is that if some one has a call waiting or if the call came in on a PRI there is no way of knowing which call was the last call. A better idea maybe a very specific DTMF sequence. This way the specific call that they are on that they want to tag will be marked. Each carrier will then be required to log the call to the FTC via an API. Like I said above we all know that CID can be easily faked and as such can not be relied on to see the caller however it can be used to identify the call along with the called number.

    If say you have:

    Call 1:
    Robo Dialer -> Carrier A -> Carrier B -> Carrier C -> End customer.

    Source: 212-555-1212
    Destination: 718-555-1212

    Call 2:
    Robo Dialer -> Carrier A -> Carrier D -> Carrier E -> End customer.
    Source: 888-555-1212
    Destination: 404-555-1212

    If the end user dials a DTMF sequence such as 1234 (it will need to be something more unique that will not interfere with credit cards, promo codes, access codes etc.) all carriers along the way will be required by law to log the call. This way with the above example the FTC will get complaints from all the carriers. The common denominator will be Carrier A. The FTC can then contact them and have them pull the customer or they will lose their business. It's not a fool proof idea but will cause openness and show who provides services to robo dialers.

  •   •   about 8 years ago

    I don't think there is a technical solution to this problem, caller id is not reliable, it can be set to anything, companies can use hundreds of carriers so it will be impossible to track a pattern, servers can be placed outside of the US Government jurisdiction, international carriers can be used, multiple servers in different parts of the world can be used, whatever the government will do the robodialers will find a way around it, I think the government needs to go after the advertisers not the companies doing the calls, as the talmud says "the mouse is not the thief, the hole is", had he not had a hole to place his loot he would not steal.

  •   •   about 8 years ago

    FTC is not looking for procedure changes, they want an easy technical solution. Unfortunately as far as I can think of, there is none. To a phone users, a robocall works just like a normal call, there is no way to figure out it is a robocall before you answer the call. Blocking the number won't work, you know they can change the numbers.

  • Manager   •   about 8 years ago

    Hi all,

    Thank you for your interest in the FTC Robocall Challenge. Please review the Official Rules (http://robocall.challenge.gov/rules) and the Criteria Details (http://robocall.challenge.gov/details/criteria) to see what constitutes an eligible submission.

    We hope you will enter the competition. Thank you.

    Best,
    Marny

  •   •   about 8 years ago

    Who determines if the call that is the subject of the complaint was in fact a telemarketing call, and not an informational call that was not a telephone solicitation. These legitimate recorded calls include bank's suspected fraud notifications, airline's flight delay alerts, and as much as the recipient may not like them, collections calls. Whatever system is developed, it should not allow consumer complaints to result in the interruption of telecommunication service to the sender without verification that the sender in fact violated the ban on recorded message telemarketing without consumer consent.

  •   •   about 8 years ago

    A key thing I've been reading from people is this question: 'Who determines if the call is an inappropriate robocall?'

    Presumably, the FTC does. But how, right?

    As is, determining who to investigate for robocalling is hard. If it wasn't, they wouldn't be asking for help. The question above might be reframed to the FTC's perspective then like this: "Who should we suspect as being illegal robocallers?"

    By this logic, the current problem is apparently a lack of consistently identifying callers-of-interest, to play off a police term, to initiate official investigations regarding. Unfortunately the standard public sector policy for this dilemma these days amounts to "Don't know who to audit? Audit everybody!", but that's really not an acceptable nor cost-effective solution.

    So the way I see it, what needs delivered is the means to reliably identify strong suspects. Rather than hiring more Investigators, better identification of suspects empowers current Investigators to be more effective.

    Now, there's no magic trap that'll close the door on illegal robocalling spam but there are ways to make them self-evident, and I believe I know how.

    For that, one centrally unifying database taking in the entirety of all complaints filed nationwide would do the job. As mentioned before, the simple code sent following a suspected illegal call I believe would optimize participation. With that participation, it would work because aggregating all suspicious activities under one large-scale database also puts that data under one search capability. Algorithms searching for proven trends could be set to watch. If suddenly a cluster of accounts start sweeping through a predictable demographic trend in a more-than-human plausible manner, that'd be a red flag that there's an artificial system in play.
    Having a unifying database makes such analyses easy, would promote accountability, and would likely cost relatively little to start and administer. Especially since a fully anonymous database might allow encouraging public participation in target trend spotting.

    @Brian M, I agree communications should never be cut off without explicit, defensible evidence on record and a preliminary guilty verdict. Communication is a Right and we have to respect that; it should require a fully fledged Court Order to inhibit that accordingly.

    As for another point brought up often, the dilemma with fake ID's being used on telecoms sounds more like a problem the telecoms themselves need to resolve. I doubt there's much the public sector can do to expedite the R & D associated therein. If we could publicly fund development of further useful techniques for U.S. providers to freely adopt however, all the better.

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