Robocalls & App Developers

UPDATES:

  • On April 28, 2017, the App Association, the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS), CTIA and USTelecom have completed and filed the Industry Robocall Strike Force report. This report can be accessed at: https://ecfsapi.fcc.gov/file/10428413802365/Ex%20Parte-Strike-Force-Report-2017-04-28-FINAL.pdf.
  • On April 27, 2017, the App Association held a webinar to educate app developers and the public at large on what the app community about what robocalls are and the technical issues faced in mitigating them, relevant laws, and the role of developers in eliminating unwanted robocalls. This webinar can be accessed at: http://cc.readytalk.com/play?id=bwvly2.

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Most Americans share a common feeling regarding unwanted automated phone calls and text messages: they find them to be a nuisance. This consensus has fueled laws from Congress, action by key regulators, and robust industry-driven efforts, all aiming to resolve this problem.

At the same time, some automated calls and text messages help countless Americans lead more efficient lives, both at work and at home. For example, a consumer may get a good deal of utility from an automated call that reminds them of a medical appointment, while businesses can learn of unauthorized use of a company card in a timely way that helps to mitigate financial damages caused by thieves.

Representing approximately 5,000 app companies and tech firms across the mobile economy, ACT | The App Association is committed to working with the broad consensus of both public and private stakeholders to combat unwanted phone calls and texts. This is why the App Association, on behalf of the developer community, has engaged with others from industry and government within the Federal Communications Commission’s Robocall Strike Force. An industry-led group, the Robocall Strike Force has been working for two months to develop comprehensive solutions to prevent, detect, and filter unwanted robocalls.

The Robocall Strike Force has encouraged the development of a standardized framework to combat unwanted robocalls by providing a means to deliver information from the network to device, empowering consumers to make informed call decisions. Key components of this framework, once implemented, will provide for:

  • Delivery of standards-based verification of the calling party’s certified Caller ID;
  • Developing mechanisms for call disposition options, potentially using the call category (e.g., telemarketing, political, spoofing, etc.); and
  • A commitment from network operators to permit the availability and usability of robocall control tools that customers may choose to be preloaded or downloadable on user devices.

Service providers, manufacturers, app developers, government, and consumers all have a role in reducing unwanted robocalls. As a part of our commitment to stop unwanted robocalls, the App Association has created a resource for app developers to understand (1) the background and context around this important issue; (2) relevant laws and regulations; and (3) what the roles and responsibilities of app developers are with respect to robocalls.

What is a “Robocall”?

 A “robocall” is any prerecorded message reaching consumers through the use of “automatic telephone dialing system” to call consumers. An “automatic telephone dialing system” is any equipment having the capacity “to store or produce telephone numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator,” and to dial those numbers. 47 U.S.C. §227.

Technical Issues Faced in Mitigating Unwanted Robocalls

While the industry mitigates unwanted robocalls today through a trace back process, many technical issues remain that result in an inability to adequately address unwanted robocalls, including but not limited to:

  • The ability to authenticate and verify caller identification (name, number, etc.) for calls, particularly those carried over an Internet Protocol (IP) network – including parties who maliciously use spoofing technologies to mask the origin of a phone call in order to make it seem legitimate;
  • The ability to ensure the integrity of a calling party’s authentication service;
  • Knowing who to contact with a communications service provider to properly trace back and/or take action against unwanted and/or illegal robocalls; and
  • Staying abreast of the most up-to-date information provided by networks on call spoofing or signaling systems that applications can harness.

The App Association stands in agreement with many other stakeholders that the acceleration of innovative technical solutions will be critical in addressing unwanted robocall mitigation, and we are committed to this shared goal. While solving these technical issues is no easy task, the Robocall Task Force’s framework represents a significant effort on this front. The App Association also supports the development of trustworthy apps that can help in addressing these topics.

Laws and Regulations Addressing Robocalls:
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (47 U.S.C. §227)

Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) in 1991 to “protect residential telephone subscriber privacy rights by restricting certain commercial solicitation and advertising uses of the telephone and related telecommunications equipment.” The TCPA prohibits using “the telephone, or automatic dialing recorded…systems, to solicit individuals who have objected to receiving commercial telephone solicitations;” as well as the “use of facsimile machines, computers or other electronic devices to send unsolicited advertisements.” The TCPA is applicable to voice telephone calls as well as Short Message Service (SMS) text messages.

The TCPA imposes several prohibitions that can only be overcome by obtaining prior express consent from a call recipient. Without this prior consent, the TCPA bans robocalls that:

  • Utilize emergency telephone lines to make said calls;
  • Call guest rooms or patient hospital rooms, healthcare facilities, elderly homes, or similar establishments; or
  • Call paging services, cell phone services, specialized mobile services, or other radio common carriers, or any service of which the party called is charged, unless to collect a debt owed or guaranteed by the U.S.

However, the TCPA allows unsolicited advertisements without prior express consent if:

  • The sender has an established business relationship;
  • The sender obtained phone numbers through:
    • Consumer’s consent
    • Through some public forum (g., an online directory);
  • The sender provides the requisite notice required under 47 U.S.C. § 227(2)(D), which must:
    • Be clear and conspicuous
    • Give the consumer the option to opt out of future unsolicited advertisements at any time
    • Must adhere to all technical & procedural standards outlined in the statute.

Further, the TCPA aims to protect consumer privacy and promote transparency by enabling call recipients to contact callers and demand that future calls stop, as well as obliges robocallers to state the name of the entity responsible for the call.

The penalties for TCPA violations are serious. Under the TCPA, statutory penalties of up to $1500 per violation are possible without the showing of any actual harm.

Laws and Regulations Addressing Robocalls:
The Do-Not-Call Implementation Act

The Do-Not-Call Implementation Act (DNCA) is a separate law passed to protect individual privacy. The DNCA authorizes the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to implement, enforce, and administer a national do-not-call registry. Additionally, the DNCA requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to consult and coordinate with the FTC to maximize consistency in the do-not-call regulations of both government agencies.

DNCA violations are also serious, with FTC and FCC enforcements resulting in financial penalties that range from tens of thousands to millions of dollars.

Role of Apps in Reducing Unwanted Robocalls

As the uptake of smartphones and other connected mobile devices becomes more and more ubiquitous, the small business software developer community that the App Association represents will play an increasingly critical role in empowering consumers to control robocalls. While further innovative apps are in development, apps are today playing a major role in mitigating unwanted robocalls (link), and will continue to. We encourage developers, consumers, and any other stakeholder to explore the apps available today (for example, our colleagues at CTIA have provided a list of apps, categorized on a handset operating system platform basis: http://www.ctia.org/consumer-tips/robocalls).

Looking forward, the Robocall Strike Force is encouraging the further development of a standardized framework for delivering information from the network to device that will better empower consumers to make informed call handling decisions. Specifically, this framework covers: call information flows, call disposition options (including automated call disposition of certain categories of calls) and feedback mechanisms from the end user that encourage real-time scoring of the extent to which a call may be suspect. We encourage App Association members to rely on these important consensus documents as they find new and innovative ways to provide for consumers to take control over robocalls.

Resources for Developers

Further Reading/Resources

By | 2017-05-17T10:28:03+00:00 March 28th, 2017|