If you are like many of the Americans who, in recent years, chose to cut the cord on your landline phone, you probably remember one of the things that finally drove you to that decision: the endless, horrible robocalls that rang you at all hours of the day. You probably knew, every time you checked your voicemail, that the chances that someone you actually cared about had left you a message were frustratingly remote. Instead, it was a litany of people trying to sell you stuff, politicians begging for your money or your vote, or CVS reminding you for the ninth time that your Klonopin refill was waiting for you to pick it up.
“Come on, CVS robot,” you thought, “you sound like you need that Klonopin more than I do.”
Those who shifted to an all-mobile phone existence experienced a relief from this daily barrage of robocalls, thanks to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). That law included a strict mandate that your mobile number could not be targeted by robocall campaigns unless you were foolish enough to provide your written consent. But now that hard-won peace is under threat. As Consumerist’s Chris Morran reports:
A company called All About The Message (AATM) has developed technology that lets it deliver messages straight to a recipient’s voicemail without actually calling the phone. It recently petitioned [PDF] the Federal Communications Commission, asking it to declare that such direct-to-voicemail messages fall outside the umbrella of the TCPA, or to grant the company a waiver to deliver these messages without fear of the penalties that could result from violating the TCPA.
This petition has received support from businesses and politicians, particularly in the form of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the RNC.
Yes, inspired by that time that Apple forced all of its iPhone users to own a U2 album, this new technology would just quietly dump message after message into our voicemail, leaving it up to every mobile phone user to be the middleman between their outreach and your deleted voicemail folder. As Recode’s Tomy Romm reports, the argument that these awful, awful people are making to justify this hellish innovation is that, because your phone never rings, it does not technically count as a phone call, so it’s not governed by the TCPA.
Naturally, this completely ignores the fact that nobody in the world wants this, but the FCC is being challenged to do something about it. One would hope that the FCC would recognize the obvious devilry here, but you never know. The flesh is weak. And I’m willing to bet that advocates for this new robocall technology are smart enough to not robocall the FCC asking for its support ― an irony that may be lost on everyone involved in making the decision.
It could be that we may have to face a future in which “ringless voicemails” become permissible in the eyes of the law. So this is a good time to decide what we are going to do to the first varlet who dares to try this, just as a form of pre-emptive action.
Bring back the pillory. It’s been a long while since we’ve locked scofflaws in the stocks for their crimes against the community, but it’s a very low-tech solution to your public humiliation needs and just about anyone involved in a ringless voicemail scheme can be placed in them snugly and securely. From there, the public could gather around the pilloried delinquent, jeering mercilessly as the miscreant grows sweaty in the heat and caked in the grime of the town square. The use of the stocks would be a return to America’s Puritan roots, and so it would be a “teachable moment” for both the offenders and for young children eager to learn about our rich history.
The parade of shame. In this old form of ritual public humiliation made popular again by HBO’s hit show “Game of Thrones,” the hoodlum involved in sending out the first ringless voicemail campaign would be made to traverse a great distance as concerned members of the public spit insults and throw garbage at the wrongdoer. This manner of punishment really brings people together by drawing on their creativity and ingenuity. Perhaps instead of forcing the offender to walk, they could be forced to ride on a cucking stool? Or they could be treated to a mock parade known as a “Skimmington ride.” It ends up being a net benefit to the participants in the community, who get to bond over a common cause, enjoy a nice day out together and get in a little cardio as well.
The reverse robocall. Or, maybe the best way to send a message about how annoying it is to be left an unwanted voicemail is to send the message back to the offender. Once the transgressor is properly identified, crowds could gather at their home and/or place of business and ― using bells, klaxons and good old-fashioned screaming ― buffet the malefactor with useless messages about an exciting new offer or about how they need to give, give, give if they want to flip the Senate. This could continue until the targeted perpetrator breaks down, wracked by guilt, sobbing like a soul condemned, the memory of their crime permanently seared on their psyche.
Hopefully, it won’t come to this, but these are just some of the ideas we, as a society, could deploy to create strong incentives against launching a “ringless voicemail” campaign. I’m sure we could, if pressed, come up with more ideas that might drive home the point that this proposal is evil and bad.
So, if you’re contemplating using “ringless voicemail” robocalls to “get your message out,” how about you take my advice and let someone else try it first?
Jason Linkins edits “Eat the Press” for HuffPost and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.