Tuesday, November 06, 2007

National Do-Not-Call Registry and permanent registration

For any of you who have signed up for the National Do-Not-Call Registry, especially those of you who signed up a few years ago already, you will be pleased to know that the FTC has pledged to not drop any numbers from the Do Not Call database pending final congressional lawmaker decisions about whether to simply make the don't call list "permanent" once you sign up.

This all sounds great, but my paranoid side has to wonder if this will ultimately turn out to be an orchestrated effort (pushed behind the scenes by telemarketing interests) to subvert the intentions of the do not call list through a tightly choreographed appearance of an attempt to make the list permanent, while the real objective is to have all of the names on that list that are reaching maturity (i.e., the existing 5-year limit) hold off on renewing their desire to remain unbothered by telemarketers as Congress "works on the issue", ultimately to have Congress not extend the 5-year period to permanence, and worse yet, do so with little notice and little press, effectively having all of us that are currently on the list "fall off" temporarily and subject ourselves to the harassment and calls we so want to avoid.

The real solution, and the obvious solution, to this do not call list is to make ALL phone numbers be automatically on the do-not-call list, and have it be an OPT-IN option to inform marketers that you actually want to receive calls from them (versus the current, and unbelievably lame, opt-out process that is nothing short of an obvious appeasement of telemarketing lobbying interests -- certainly not a consumer interest)! Of course, since the logical answer is to have all phone numbers be on a do not call list by default, that is one thing Congress will never require. So what if 76% of Americans have signed up to keep their numbers off the marketers' lists? (and, I presume most of the remaining 24% would do the same, but just don't take time or are not aware of how simple it is to do).

Let me start with a real-world example of how messed up the current do-not-call registration process-flow is, and what backs my presumption that Congress will, "after careful consideration" and so forth, not make the Do Not Call list a "permanent" thing. Recently my mother-in-law started receiving harassing calls in the middle of the night from some whacko that just happened to choose her number to call. Her existing number was on the do-no-call list, and she rarely received calls aside from the "exempted" stuff like "surveys" and political-campaign messages (gee, who would have guessed lawmakers would exclude themselves from being censored). After these harassing calls persisted for a few days, my mother in law decided to just have the phone company change her number.

Gee, guess what happens after changing your phone number? You are no longer on the do not call list, since it is an OPT-OUT (of being harassed by telemarketers) program vs. opt-in, and instantly you start getting bombarded with marketing calls, even if you go online and instantly register your new phone number with the FTC as not to be called, while the marketers have a sort of grace period to abuse you for a month or so. In my mother-in-law's situation, she went from rarely getting any calls, to literally turning off her ringer after a day because so many marketers were calling her. The phone companies obviously have financially-rewarding agreements with telemarketing firms to sell any information about new phone numbers ASAP so you can be abused and harassed "legally" for as long as possible. This is pure bull@#$! Especially if you were already on the do not call list, and are forced into changing your phone number for any of a variety of reasons.

It would be really nice if Congress would wake up and do our (the people's) bidding and implement some logical consumer-protection laws, but it isn't going to happen as long as lobbyists can hand them more cash and incentives than we, the public, do. It's not good enough to get our votes, they need constant monetary incentive up there on Capitol Hill in order to hear us it seems. So, don't be surprised when the "permanent registration" being considered in Congress somehow doesn't come to be (though, I sure hope it does!), and you suddenly start getting marketing calls during a period where marketers will exploit a giant hole created by Congress where your registrations lapses as an "unfortunate and unexpected side effect" of lawmakers efforts - since they'll postpone making a final decision until after many of us early signup persons pass our initial 5-years of peace we signed up for. I hope I'm wrong, but you can almost predict this sort of thing from lawmakers.

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