New Call Intervention App Supported by the FTC Could Harm Legitimate Businesses and Prevent Consumers from Receiving Important Information

The Federal Trade Commission is supporting a mobile application that reroutes some automated calls so that consumers cannot receive them.

ACA International, the association of credit and collection professionals, is raising concerns over the Federal Trade Commission’s effort to encourage technology that will reroute some legitimate and valuable telephone calls.

In March, the FTC announced two contests challenging the public to develop a crowd-sourced “honeypot” to lure and analyze what they deem to be “robocalls.” According to the FTC, “the challenges are part of the FTC’s long-term multi-pronged effort to combat illegal robocallers.” Contestants for the new technology competed for a $25,000 prize, and one winner was announced last week.

The winning technology, called RoboKiller, works on both landline and mobile phones and uses audio-fingerprint technology to identify calls with computerized voices and forwards them to the “honeypot” and away from the consumer. A runner-up using similar audio analytics received a $10,500 prize.

The app makers assert that the technology will block “robocalls” and claim that their technology is useful because “automated telemarketing and scam calls facilitate fraud and identity theft.” The FTC claims that the app will block “illegal robocalls.” However, neither the FTC nor the app maker explain how legal, legitimate calls using automated voice technology will not become ensnared in the “honeypot” of illegal calls.

From all appearances, the app fails to understand important distinctions between calling scams or unwanted solicitations and legitimate, non-solicitation, informational calls that provide necessary, expected, and desired information to existing customers of businesses. Such informational calls include financial alerts, utility service updates, upcoming travel information, and payment reminders. Blocking such legitimate, informational calls is inconvenient and, at times, harmful to consumers.

“Once again, the term ’robocall’ is used overbroadly here,” said Patrick J. Morris, chief executive officer of ACA International. “Robocalls are calls made by machines that dial random or sequential numbers to reach as many people as possible to scam or solicit business. Many legitimate businesses attempting to reach a specific person with whom they have an existing business relationship may use modern calling technology to reach their customers effectively and efficiently. It is easy to see how those calls could be swept up in this app. It is unfair to presume that just because a company uses modern calling technology that the call is somehow illegal or unwanted.”