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Robocalls: A pain in the ear

Country Roads

January 9, 2012
The Daily Freeman Journal

Whew! The Iowa Caucuses are finally over and it's about time.

The Iowa Caucuses are an important part of our nation's electoral process but some of the related stuff we Iowans have to put up with is ridiculous.

In particular, the phone calls.

In the weeks prior to the caucuses many Iowans endured a dozen or more phone calls every day usually during the dinner hour and early evenings.

A few of the calls I received had live humans on the other end and on a few occasions I engaged callers in conversation. I asked if they thought that irritating people with their calls really would sway votes. One young caller was particularly articulate and we had a healthy debate on political matters.

Most of those calls, however, were robocalls.

A robocall is an automated telephone call generated by a computerized auto-dialer which delivers a pre-recorded message. Because they are automated they conjure an image of robotics hence the name.

Robocalls can be good. I am familiar, for instance, with churches that use robo calls to facilitate prayer chains and deliver urgent announcements. That's smart use of the technology.

Where I have a problem with robocalls is when they become an uninvited invasion of my time and privacy personal and on-the-job.

The barrage of robocalls Iowans have endured in recent weeks is a classic example of how robocalls can be a pain in the ear.

Political campaigns use robocalls because they are an inexpensive way to reach thousands of voters in a short time at a very low cost. At this moment you or I could purchase a 30-second robocall to 100 friends from an online provider for just nine-cents each. Major political campaigns calling tens of thousands of homes get it done for a few pennies.

All of that efficiency, however, has a price ticked off voters.

Campaign strategists have to be aware of the disgruntlement of robocall recipients but apparently think that the value of getting the message out offsets the irritation.

In the interest of full disclosure, as a marketing person I have utilized robocalls on a limited scale and can tell you that based on the negative feedback I received it won't happen again.

A family emergency kept me up until 3:30 on a recent Saturday morning. When I tried to take a nap that afternoon I was awakened by political robocalls. I finally gave up and got up.

After going out for dinner with friends shortly before Christmas, we returned to our home for dessert. It was difficult to visit because of the constant interruption by political robocalls. (For the record, I did get my dessert.)

Automated phone calls are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission in general and more specifically by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991. Political robocalls, however, are exempt from most FTC regulations.

With the exception of those made with express consent or emergency purposes, the TCPA prohibits prerecorded calls to cell phones. In the weeks running up to the caucuses, however, I received numerous political robocalls on my cell phone as did friends and family members.

I'm ready to write a letter to Merriam-Webster to suggest that "robocall" be listed as a synonym for "hemorrhoid." Both are a pain in the rear.

Several states have taken action to control robocalls. California prohibits any robocall unless there is an existing relationship. Indiana requires that a prerecorded message be introduced by a live operator and the message may not be played without the call recipient's permission. Others states have even different regulations.

The robocalls have ended for now but the November general election isn't that far away. Come October our phones will begin ringing again.

I would like to think our Iowa legislators, like lawmakers in other states, could take action to protect us from robocalls. But then I remember what they did to protect turtle doves.

 
 

 

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