It’s a legal gray area that some companies are already taking advantage of, but the FCC is currently deciding if it wants to make it officially acceptable. Telemarketers and robocall services hope to take advantage of a loophole that would allow them to skip the call and just flood your voicemail inbox with messages.
New services are offering “ringless voicemail” services that surprise customers with voicemails without ever getting a ring on their phone. The age of telemarketing being an effective strategy has shifted in recent years due to consumers leaving behind their landlines in favor of smartphones.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 made it illegal for services that utilize automated dialing and artificial or prerecorded voices to contact cellphones without first obtaining consent. One major reason for this is that consumers would endure the related charges from their cellular service provider. But ringless voicemail companies like All About the Message have been leaving messages in consumer’s inboxes in defiance of the law because its operators believe that by skipping the initial call they are legally covered.
Now, All About the Message is petitioning the FCC to make the loophole officially recognized as an acceptable procedure. The petition reads in part, “The act of depositing a voicemail on a voicemail service without dialing a consumers’ cellular telephone line does not result in the kind of disruptions to a consumer’s life — dead air calls, calls interrupting consumers at inconvenient times or delivery charges to consumers.”
But critics believe this will ruin inboxes and waste consumer’s time. Margot Freeman Saunders, senior counsel at the National Consumer Law Center wrote in a dissenting letter to the FCC that this service “will likely overwhelm consumers’ voicemail systems and consumers will have no way to limit, control or stop these messages.” Even people who’ve added their name to the official Do Not Call list are targets. Saunders writes, “We read the law to possibly not apply if they are not considered calls.”
People wouldn’t just receive messages to enter a chance to win a cruise or to apply for a low interest rate credit card. Political messaging, debt collectors and anyone else who wants to send an unsolicited notification would suddenly have free reign to spam the hell out of your inbox. Have an important work voicemail you’ve been waiting on? You’ll have to listen to Trump explain that he needs donations to fight the deep state first.
Services like All About the Message would surely be fine with just existing in a legal limbo but its tactics have begun to cause trouble. An auto dealer that it provided services for is being sued by someone in Florida who received multiple voicemail messages. The company is asking to receive a waiver from any previous infractions if the FCC decides that the service is in violation of regulations.
The FCC isn’t commenting on the petition as long as it’s under review. No timeline is set for when a decision will be made, but the public is free to comment at this time. Of course, there’s no guarantee your comment won’t be crowded out by bots robo-commenting as we’ve seen in the debate over net neutrality.