Telling the robocaller to leave a message


No one calls me anymore. When I say no “one”, I mean no “person”, though the recorded voices at the other end of the line can display some uncannily human timing.

Every day, at precisely 12:30 pm, the phone rings. It goes off again at 12:45 pm. Suppertime brings a veritable chorus of bells and buzzers from various tech devices, scattered around the house, sounding like fire alarms.

The California Public Utilities Commission describes the automatic dialing

announcing device (ADAD), or “robocall” experience as such:  “When you answer your phone and find that you are listening to a recording. These calls are placed by machines (which) store hundreds, even thousands, of telephone numbers, and then dial them automatically and play a recorded message.”

Needless to say, political parties love to deploy ADADs. It’s the grown-up version of prank calling. Instead of, “Hey, do you have pop in a bottle? Better let him out, cause mom says dinner’s ready,” think, “Hey, it’s 11:00 o’clock and the Liberals are prowling the streets. Do you know where your children are?”

As it happens, California maintains some of the toughest robocall regulations in North America. In that state, the practice is lawful only when a real, live, breathing human being introduces himself before turning over the show to the recording.

The exceptions to this rule, says the Utilities Code, apply when you, the call’s recipient, “are a member or a client of a company or organization that uses (robocalls) to deliver messages, such as an announcement about a sale” or when public authorities need to reach you concerning an emergency.

In Canada, we’re a little less formal about how we intrude on hapless citizens tucking into their evening meals. Or, at least, we have been.

Word comes down from Ottawa that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is mightily displeased with certain political parties in this country and their habit of concealing (or, at least, failing to disclose) their identities in the automated calls they authorize on their behalf.

The regulator has slapped fines totaling $370,000 on the federal Conservatives, NDP, the Ontario PCs, the Wildrose Party of Alberta, as well as two MPs and a private robocalling company.

That’s not a stunning amount of money, but it sends a message to happy-go-lucky politicos and their staffers who seem to think that the ubiquitous telephone is their personal pipeline into the homes of the nation. The CRTC is, in effect, telling them, “Look it. . .You wouldn’t welcome a complete stranger into your home. Why would you expect anyone to tolerate a partisan message delivered by an unidentified caller?”

As Andrea Rosen, the Commission’s chief compliance and enforcement officer told the Globe and Mail this week, “Canadians have a right to know who is calling them. . .The robo-call rules have been on the books since 1982. We expect that people should understand the rules and should be able to comply with the rules rather easily given the length of time they’ve been on the books.”

You’d think, huh? But, it’s not that simple.

Common courtesy and plain dealing are the wooly mammoths and Dodo birds of modern society. They went extinct long ago. In their place have risen blithe disregard and crowning arrogance.

Not long ago, I made the mistake of answering a call at suppertime. To my surprise, a warm body was on the other end of the line, though he might as well have been a robot.

“So, I have a great opportunity to discuss with you,” he began right out of the gate. No “hellos”, no “good evening, my name is. . .” for him. Just “So, how do I get to your place?”

To which, I responded, “Well, pal. . .first you have to be invited,” before slamming the receiver down.

This is the sort of behaviour that one expects from a generation of brand-makers and salesmen. So, too, from the current machinery of politics, which is more concerned with the means of its messaging than of its content.

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