Enough with the robocalls already!

While I usually get a few robocalls a day, yesterday I broke a record: I had 11 robocalls and one lone telemarketer. It felt like I was getting a call every 45 minutes or so. These calls are getting ridiculous, and none of the calls were even political! There were “IRS is after you” calls, “renegotiate home loan” calls, “make big money from home” calls, “liens against your property calls” and some calls where I just hung up after hearing a stern male robo voice shout “We have been trying to reach you…”

Like email spam, robocalls are a new pox on our lives: like email spam, people wonder why it continues to happen. 

Think of it this way: if it weren’t profitable in some way, people would stop doing it. For all of us “woke” folks, we know not to click on that Viagra, baldness cure, online casino or make big money online ad. However, there are still a ton of people who do, and because it is still profitable, people do it. I doubt that those people who fill our inboxes with that crap care: it costs them next to nothing. I’d say, like Gordon Gekko, they’ve had “an ethical bypass at birth.”

According to Statista, almost 50% of all email sent is spam.  Believe it or not at one point over 70% of email was spam. 

And now, with robocallers, the spam comes to your phone. 

Does anyone remember those little boxes that you could buy which plugged into your landline phone and fooled robo callers into thinking that your line was dead? They would pick up the phone, leave dead air, then the robo caller would hang up thinking it was a dead line then call the next one. Those used to work ok. 

Nowadays, the robo caller is a little more sophisticated. It calls, then waits for you to talk before going into its spiel. I tried picking up the call and saying nothing – if its a human they get uncomfortable with the silence and talk first, if its a robot, then they hang up if they hear nothing. You have to keep very quiet though; they trigger with any ambient noise they capture. 

Sometimes they plow ahead and start chattering anyway. If you don’t pick up, sometimes they leave long incoherent voicemails with part of the message chopped off, since it started when your greeting started. 

The most egregious ones spoof a local number or even local exchange to make you think it’s a neighbor, local business or doctor which you might be working with. When I see both the area code and exchange the same as mine, I immediately dump the call. 

At a few calls a day, its a minor annoyance. At 12+ calls a day, it has to be something we fix.

Urgent calls from people not in your address book that you want to take need to be shunted to voice mail because you never know if its a robocall. Your cognitive energy is sucked up by having to check your phone every time a call comes in.

Some startup ideas to battle this:

  • Replicate that little box which gives a caller dead air in software. Make it smart enough to only ring your phone when a human calls and says something human. 
  • Fix the caller ID system so that it’s not spoofed so easily
  • Have a universal caller ID which looks up and rates every incoming number and only lets through those which it feels are legit. Seems a good problem for AI researchers to work on. 

Some people say that this will put a dent in telemarketing. I say “So Be It”. For far too long, sales has been a spray and pray crapshoot. We need better sales solutions. 

Here is another billion dollar (possibly trillion dollar) startup idea for you: develop an AI based tool which perfectly maps buyers to sellers and only allows messages discussing the perfect product at the perfect time in the perfect place to get through.

Imagine that: an internet free of spam, your phone free of robocalls.