do-not-call registry: useless.

You've probably heard about the new National Do-Not-Call Registry. The idea is that you add your phone number to a list -- which will then be distributed to each and every phone spammer in the country -- and they all sincerely promise not to call you.

Well, even if you buy that story, it's still useless, because the law exempts:

  • long-distance phone companies;
  • airlines;
  • banks and credit unions;
  • insurance companies;
  • all political organizations;
  • all charities;
  • anyone conducting a survey.

All those people are allowed to cold-call you even if you're on the list. Oh, and also anyone you've done business with in the last 18 months. (FAQ.)

I almost never get telemarketing calls, and my technique was:

  • pay for anonymous call rejection;
  • pay for an unlisted phone number;
  • pay extra for an unpublished phone number;
  • wait a year for it to propagate.

"Unlisted" just means "take me out of the paper book." "Unpublished" is what you need to get out of the databases they sell to spammers.

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47 Responses:

  1. fo0bar says:

    You would think that telemarketers would LOVE this. I mean, you've instantly weeded out millions of people who most likely would never buy stuff from a telemarketer. And logic would dictate that the banks and insurance companies would use this list too, even though they don't have to, to save money in the costs associated with making the dead-end calls.

    Sadly, we do not live in a logical society.

    • jwz says:

      If that logic followed, then spammers wouldn't tune their messages to get through filtering software either. Both breeds of vermin work on the assumption that some tiny (but sufficient) percentage of people who claim not to be interested will give them money anyway.

      And they are presumably correct, or they would have stopped by now.

      I blame society.

      • jlindquist says:

        Of course. Society could pressure the leaders it elects to more strictly regulate telemarketroids, instead of granting them loopholes. Society could stop buying from phone solicitors.

        Or it could just add killing them to the justifiable homicide statutes. I'd be happy with that.

      • that logic doesn't follow. telemarketers have costs associated with each call, esp. telemarketers who have a live human being on one end, which is most. also, most people's email addresses are on servers that check blacklists and use filters without even asking, so random joe schmoe who really wants to see hot teens taking it up the ass but he's got an @aol email address needs those spammers to keep trying to find ways around the filters.

  2. kchrist says:

    It's been fixed:

    The FCC voted 5-0 Thursday to add its authority to the do-not-call list and to plug holes in its protections. The registry will now also block telemarketers from industries whose calls the FCC regulates, including airlines, banks and telephone companies.

    Re: anonymous call rejection, I refuse to pay for a service that will inconvenience both me and my friends just to avoid telemarketers. I signed up for the national DNC list months ago when CA was taking pre-registrations.

    I'd like to drop my land line altogether but my apartment building has one of those intercoms that rings your phone when someone is at the gate for you. Maybe after I move next.

    • jwz says:

      Anonymous call rejection doesn't inconvenience me at all. It might possibly inconvenience others (by making them redial, or add the magic prefix to my number in their phones) but, look, if you don't feel the need to tell me who you are when you call me, then I don't feel the need to answer. Quid pro quo.

      You get worked up that they charge for anonymous call rejection, and yet you let slide without comment the fact that you have to pay to not be listed in the phone book?

      I might give up my land line once number-portability becomes a reality. Right now my land line number is just a placeholder that forwards to my cell, since I didn't want to become a captive of the cell carrier. I never give out the cell number directly.

      • kchrist says:

        Is anonymous call rejection the service that answers the call with a recording asking the caller to enter an access code or record their name, or the one that just tells them to enable caller ID and call back? I've never used either, but I've called people who use both. The first is much more annoying than the second. I thought you were talking about the first service, but upon re-reading I think you probably mean the second one.

        I do hate the fact that I have to pay to have an unlisted number too. At least it's only what, $1/month? Something like that. I don't really see that as related to the telemarketing problem though. Why use a phone directory when you can just wardial? But who knows, maybe I'd get more sales calls if my number was listed.

        What I want is a phone system at home that can use custom rules, eg. certain callers are forwarded to my cell, all calls go to voicemail between these hours except for certain pre-approved callers, callers without caller ID always go to voicemail, messages left on my voicemail will page me on my cell, etc. Unfortunately, you can't get that without investing in a PBX or similar. I'd keep my land line if I could do something like this with it. Not being able to do this is just one of the reasons phone companies suck.

        • jwz says:

          Anonymous call rejection is the one that says "this person doesn't accept anonymous calls. To send your ID for one call, dial star-something then call again."

          People who find that annoying are welcome to not call me.

          • flipzagging says:

            Doesn't this make running a nightclub a little difficult? Sounds like there would have to be a lot of real-time communication with people you don't know.

            • jwz says:

              I don't do booking, so I'm not the one who answers the phone at the club.

              • flipzagging says:

                Interesting. I got rid of my cell phone and barely even use landlines anymore. But like a lot of people I assume that "important" people still need them.

      • tfofurn says:

        The phone company wants everyone to use the phone book to look up numbers. They sell advertising, and they want impressions. Everybody that wants not to be listed is decreasing the value of the phone book as a reference. By extension, you're damaging the phone system as a whole because you want to appear as though you're not connected. As far as the phone company is concerned, you're screwing them over by not allowing yourself to be called. Thus, the space regained in the phone book by not printing your info is not space they wanted to regain.

        I will grant you, though, that the distinction between "unpublished" and "unlisted" is a load of crap.

        • tsarin says:

          I have to dispute your hypothesis on the grounds that, if someone doesn't know my number is (for sake of argument) unlisted—which would basically be anyone to whom neither I nor someone else who already has it has given it—they're going to go straight to the phone book anyway.

          Moreover, you don't look up residential listings in the section of the book in which they sell any advertising. If you want to look up a business which does thing, you go to the Yellow Pages—where they sell ad space—to find one. If you want to look up the number of either a specific business or a specific person, on the other hand, you go to the white pages. Businesses can purchase bolded listings ("premium" or whatever else the publisher might be calling them this year), but again, that only applies to people looking for businesses.

          The presence or absence of my particular number from the residential listings in the over-thick stack of dead tree sitting on my phone table has zero bearing on whether or not they can sell more or less ad space, since the presence or absence of my number has zero bearing on what someone who'd be looking in a section in which they sell ad space will see.

          • tfofurn says:

            There's advertising on the cover of my white pages. A lot of the pages in the residential listings have advertising covering the bottom inch of the page.

            Will you agree that "missing" listings degrade the overall utility of the phone network? The phone company wants people to be making calls. Every time somebody fails to find the number they want in the book, their opinion of the phone book is harmed. The next time they need to reach someone, will they then consider skipping the phone book, and consider some other method of contact?

            • tsarin says:

              To your first point, someone who doesn't already have my number probably doesn't know its listed-ness, as it were, and will be hitting up the white pages anyway; they'll still see those ads. People who already have it won't be looking for it, and won't have seen them anyway.

              To your second, I care nary a whit for whether or not the phone company thinks I'm getting a/o making "enough" calls. I'm not here to benefit the phone company; they're there to benefit me. I pay a flat rate for my local calls and use BigZoo for my LD; the phone company gets no more or less money no matter how many calls I make for however long. Whether the phone company thinks I'm being a good consumer drone or not and thereby ensuring they make enough money is about the least good reason I can think of for justifying their charging me for using less ink and, if enough people have unlisted numbers, less paper, too.

              On top of that, there comes a point beyond which the phone company doesn't want you making more calls. The telephone switching network is designed with usage assumptions. Those assumptions are well below the number of subscribers. If more people try to make calls than the telco switches can handle, those additional people don't get through, and probably end up with an even lower opinion of the phone company than they would if they merely couldn't find my number in the book.

              • volkris says:

                I'm not here to benefit the phone company; they're there to benefit me.

                You're there to benefit each other. If you didn't benefit them they wouldn't give you phone service.

                • flipzagging says:

                  > If you didn't benefit them they wouldn't give you phone service.

                  I dunno, they send me a bill every month and I pay it. Do I owe them, and whomever they choose to business with, my privacy too?

                  • volkris says:

                    Yes, if that's part of the deal.

                    In this case you have no expectation of privacy unless you explicitly demand it from the phone company (and they generally charge for that, from what I undertand). So unless you specifically have a deal saying that they won't sell your number, you owe them the opportunity to make money doing just that.

    • baconmonkey says:

      a friend of mine has her apt intercom call her cell phone.

      • supersat says:

        Same here, and it's been that way for 16 months. ;)

        The only reason I got a land line here in the first place was for DSL qualification, and quickly cancelled it after it was set it (it's SDSL, which uses a seperate line, so I don't need normal phone).

      • mcfnord says:

        once i had no phone so visitors at the door could not ring me. but it was funny to learn they were ringing the previous occupant at their new address.

    • mhagler says:

      My apartment has one of those intercom things you describe, but I had them program my cell phone into it and it works just fine. Unfortunately, I still have the land line around just to carry DSL, but I never bother to answer any calls on it because I'm sure anybody calling it somebody I really don't want to talk to. :)

  3. christowang says:

    Also most people aren't aware of the "Do Not Call List" that each company keeps. I've said that for 3 months, and I'm done to 1 call every 3 months.

  4. supersat says:

    The law now requires that telemarketers send their caller id info, so anonymous call rejection isn't as useful as it once was.

  5. violentbloom says:

    Last night on the LA fox news they interviewed some king of the telemarketing scum. He was whining about how 2 million people are going to be out of jobs...and they will go out of business. Which sounds great. 2 millon people who have no integrety will no longer have jobs. I'm weeping here. Then he went on to say how putting yourself on the list "robs you of your choice" to buy products or services.
    Terrifying really. We know that man will be rotting in hell someday.

    As far as the paying for unpublished numbers and anonymous call never really worked for me. When I lived in california I made the mistake of giving one company my phone number. That would be the oakland chronicle. I ended up having to change my number and I still got tons. You know your phone carrier sells the list to "their associated businesses".

    Plus here in montana, and to some degree Cali too, we get so many out of area calls that rejecting calls is useless. Anyone calling from work, calling from the doctor, calling from out of state (for the most part) are out of area. Plus all of telemarketers show up as out of area. And I can't reject out of area calls-at all. I can't pay money to reject calls. Lovely. Apparently the telemarketers pay extra money to qwest so that their call goes through anyway.
    Speaking of out of area calls that was one now...only it was ian's mom...same area code and phone network...but for no apparent reason it shows up out of area.
    I guess I could just cancel the phone.

    • mcfnord says:

      i have a phone for outgoing calls only. that works! i use a voicemail pager (1-800#) when people want to reach me. your point about sharing #'s is interesting... having a cheap voicemail is a good solution to commercial interests that want your #.

      my feeling about most of these voices on the other end is that they have trouble finding work. who WANTS this job? i feel bad but when they do reach me, sometimes I abuse them verbally.

    • volkris says:

      You know, this isn't a case of the government stepping in to destroy an entity of absolute evil, as the general public seems to be portraying it.

      Sure you're annoyed by these people, but they have the same agreements with the phone companies that you do: they can send and place phone calls through the phone system. Here the government is stepping in and saying that the agreement doesn't stand, that the telemarketing companies don't get to operate under the agreements that the phone companies have offered to them.

      Just because you chose to utilize a device that annoys you when telemarketers call doesn't mean it's the fault of the telemarketers. You should be demanding better technology that can sort your incoming calls out, alerting you only to the ones you want. Demand third party addons to the phone system that would track and block potential telemarketer calls. Do any of a hundred other things that would solve the problem without interfering with the freedoms of others to use the services they've purchased fairly.

      It so seriously pisses me off that Americans run to governmental force every time they have the slightest annoyance in their lives.

      What the phone service lets telemarketers do with the phone service is between those two parties. Keep congress out of the deal and stop looking for legal solutions to technological problems.

      • violentbloom says:

        So I just have to point out that the government IS our legal system.

        It's not a technological problem in the slightest. The phone company has the knowledge and they are selling my info to the highest bidder. And I am not offered the same services or any service to prevent this. Actually qwest here doesn't even offer call blocking...because the telemarketing companys pay them not to. That's the reason they give when you ask-or at least they do if you push them a bit.

        The problem is that the average consumer can't offer the phone company thousands of dollars to block calls, whereas the telemarketing companys can offer them thousands to not block calls.

        • volkris says:

          The government is our legal system... and as I said, don't go looking for a legal solution to a technological problem.

          You complain tha tthe phone company is selling your info to the highest bidder... well why not bring up legislation against that? Even if that practice stopped, though, telemarketers will keep on rolling. They don't need the info from the phone companies, the info is only a convenience helping expand their success rates.

          Just because you're not offered some service gives you no right to use the government to force anyone to offer you such services. What, are you going to lass lesislation next requiring McDonalds employees to wash your windows at the drive through? It's their company and they have no obligation to offer you whatever service you want.

          It is absolutely a technological problem. Your phone isn't smart enough to distinguish between good and bad calls. It alerts you to all of them. But you choose to use it and keep the ringer turned on, just as you probably choose to keep your radio on even if it means an occasional crappy song or a change of station. Instead of legislating that the radios stop playing annoying things (like many commercials) people are switching to mp3 players and such. The solution to the telemarketer problem is similar: smarter phones, not legislation.

          The problem has nothing to do with the telemarketer. Whatever deal the telemarketer and the phone company make is none of your business unless they chose to make it your business, and so long as that deal is being followed the legal system has no place in it. If you don't like how the phone system works don't use it. If you don't like that your phone bugs you with calls you don't want to be buged with (a completely different matter) then get a better phone.

          But stay out of the dealings between two concenting parties.

          • flipzagging says:

            Fee fie foe fum. I think I smell a libertarian. While I respect the libertarian skepticism about market regulation, let's be clear about what's going on here.

            You're basically saying that there's a sort of technological arms race, and that when spammers up the ante, it's the responsibility of the rest of us to just improve their filtering systems.

            By that logic, I don't have the right to pollution-free air, instead I should just buy a better gas mask.

            You might argue that pollution is different; by your argument, when one chooses to use a telephone, one chooses all the good and bad things that go with it.

            I don't think this argument works. The communications infrastructure we have is vulnerable to spam and to telemarketers. There is very little that can be done about this without major network rearchitecture. I don't like my telephone at all, I spend the minimum I can on it, but I still need to have one.

            Well-heeled people can start using whizzy new devices and services, but the vast majority are left behind. And it is not so easy to live without a phone number these days. One can barely function as a citizen or economic actor these days without one.

            Considering that the telecom infrastructure does NOT afford easy choice of non-spam-vulnerable alternatives, even a libertarian should agree that there is a role for legislation here.

            • yakko says:

              Regardless of the political aspects, and specifically with regard to the phone, I've been using the following simple call treatment:

              I have a phone with CID and voicemail. Those whose CID is good (and I feel like talking to them) get their calls answered. The rest are dropped to voicemail. Repeat the if/then/else with voicemail and whether the caller left a real VM or not.

              If crap call volume gets too great, I have my old hardware-strapped modem "answer" the line. I might stop that sort of call treatment a week later. Those who really need to get hold of me can do so, because they know my work and/or cell number.

              In the end, it's still a "build a better filter" solution, but unlike email, I can screen 100% of the calls and I'm NEVER obligated to answer my phone.

            • volkris says:

              By that logic, I don't have the right to pollution-free air, instead I should just buy a better gas mask.

              Not at all. The phone company owns the phone system. If they want it "trashed up" (more proper term would be "used") with telemarketing calls that's really their business. It's theirs to sell.

              On the other hand the environment belongs to the people who live in it, and these people are represented by the government. Someone trashing the environment without permission has to pay damages just as someone trashing a phone booth would have to pay there.

              Considering that the telecom infrastructure does NOT afford easy choice of non-spam-vulnerable alternatives, even a libertarian should agree that there is a role for legislation here.

              It really does, though, and I'm astounded that nobody has bothered to really put a product on the market that would use one of a variety of techniques to combat the annoyances. Even blacklist/whitelist type devices (that could be produced and sold insanely cheaply) would do a great deal to help.

              The infrastructure we have IS vulnerable to spam and telemarketers, but you're [erroneously, in my opinion] presupposing that this is a bad thing. This is just a different class of user, and nothing HAS to be done about it. They pay for phone service just like the rest of us (and those who steal it can be dealt with under existing law).

              So you get occasionally annoyed when your phone rings. Big deal.

              • flipzagging says:

                > It really does, though, and I'm astounded that nobody has bothered to really put a
                > product on the market

                I'm not sure what the problem is myself. Point is, telemarketing is so uniformly hated it's a staple stand-up comedian joke. For more than a decade. In light of this, can it be argued that the market has totally failed to provide what people want?

                > you're [erroneously, in my opinion] presupposing that this is a bad thing.

                We seem to be both agreeing that the market is not providing a good response to spamming and telemarketing.

                The difference is that you seem to be saying that this proves that the market is working and that the people are broken. I have a different view.

                • volkris says:

                  I would say that this is a failure of the market, and would actually be interested in knowing what happened. Surely someone, somewhere in the last ten years came up with a really great idea for combating unwanted phone calls. I'm sure many people did. A few of those people even, I'm sure, had the technical skills to properly move their idea into a physical black box sitting between the user's phone and the wall.

                  But what happened? Where did the ideas go? I guess we'll never know.

                  But skipping to the present, I don't believe such a failure of the market represents cause for the government to step in and regulate. This isn't peoples' lives, after all. It's only an annoyance.

                  And a great political move with an election moving near, I suppose...

                  • violentbloom says:

                    Wow. I just can't believe you think it's okay to call up some old person and trick them out of their life savings. That's not an annoyance. That means they won't have food, shelter, or health care which means they will die or the government will have to use my tax dollars to fix it.
                    And before you say that they shouldn't have a phone, or they're dumb, or they should be in a nursing home...think about doing that yourself while being isolated and not mobile, and most likely a little on the confused side...does that sound acceptable? Is that anyway to treat our elders?

                    You're a rather unkind person.

                  • volkris says:

                    Wow. I just can't believe you think it's okay to call up some old person and trick them out of their life savings.

                    When did I ever say that?
                    I think precisely the opposite.

  6. hotabay says:

    I have Call Intercept from Verizon. I rarely get a telemarketing call.

  7. tfofurn says:

    Current music: Tykwer, Kilmek, Heil -- Introduction

    So would that be the introduction to Run Lola Run, or Princess and the Warrior?

  8. edm says:

    I've had an unlisted number (which I think is also unpublished) in New Zealand for about 5 years (and my current number has _never_ been listed, unlike the previous ones which were listed by someone else), and find that I don't get any telemarketing calls at all. Where as when my number was listed (or had been listed in the past year), I used to get several telemarketing calls each week. (Fortunately telemarketing in New Zealand has never gotten quite as bad as it is in the US, although this is purely luck rather than good legislation AFAICT.)

    So I'd definitely say the biggest thing is staying out of the published lists of "numbers you might like to call". Personally I don't find it a big inconvenience having an unlisted/unpublished number. People who might need to call me already have my phone number, or my email address, or at least know where to look for my cellphone number on the 'net. (In New Zealand the call_er_ pays for calling a cellphone, which is a wonderful discouragement against people making junk calls to a cellphone. The US call_ee_ pays for cellphone calls is just so weird. Oh and in NZ (and everywhere else outside the US I know about) the cellphones are in a different area code from the land lines, so it's really obvious when you're calling one.) Fortunately the cost is the same whether or not my number is published (one of the wonders of having the phone directory split off into Yet Another Company I guess), so it's an easy choice.

    It looks like the US "national do not call" list is going to be just as effective as any other "opt out" list which is to say "not exactly optimal".


  9. phreddiva says:

    I had the anonymous call rejection feature on my phone until I realized that my relatives were unable to call me from Germany.

  10. mcfnord says:

    my solution: no phone, really. i give my friends my 1-800 pager #. i know it's a little wierd. i do have a phone for internet and outgoing calls. when i hang it up like a normal phone, it *frequently* rings almost immediately, because the call center redials busy lines.

    i have gotten my spam totally in check with watching no t.v., i have a pretty good handle on advertising in my life all around. which is nice. i guess i can tackle internet advertising with some add-in next.

  11. baconmonkey says:

    I'm confused how the unlisted and unpublished numbers would prevent an incremental autodialler from calling you...

  12. revsphynx says:

    Kentucky's no call list is pretty good. Charities, political parties and surveys are still exempt, unfortunately, but Long distance companies, airlines(I've never gotten a call from an airline...), banks, and insurance companies are included. I believe companies you've done business with in the last year are also exempt, but I'm not positive.

  13. Couldn't we just, you know, wait and see?

    I mean several hundred thousand people have signed up already -- I'd imagine that's a damn good sample group to see whether or not there's any meaningful change in the number of phone solicitations they get?

    (Yes, they will go ballistic the first time someone violates the FTC rules, and it'll take time to propagate. And most feedback will be anecdotal -- i.e. columnists reporting that their phone spam increased, decreased or stayed the same.)

    Also, with the statewide do not call lists, did that apply to people calling *from* the state in question, calling a person who was *in* that state, or only when both conditions were met (i.e. caller and called were both in a do-not-call state)?

  14. retrodiva1 says:

    Wow that makes me sad. I was actually fool enough to give them my cell number. Damn.

    One thing that worked for me. You can "opt out" on junk mail and other telemarketing, e-mail and so on by sending them a letter. If you make the phone call it takes you off their list for two years. I did it and I never received so little junk mail. To permanently get off their list you can send them a letter.

    Experian actually has more info on their website.

    Credit Reporting agencies are allowed to give out your report to any junk mailers that want it and when I saw how many people pinged my credit report per year it was astounding. By opting out you stop them from receiving your info.