Last week the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that they will host a joint policy Forum on March 23, 2018 to highlight the actions the agencies and others have taken to fight illegal robocalls. They also announced that one month later, on April 23, they will co-host a Stop Illegal Robocalls Expo in Washington, D.C.
About the March 23 Forum
According to the announcement, the Forum will discuss past, current, and potential future regulatory action to protect consumers and empower telephone service providers to block illegal robocalls. It will include an in-depth discussion of recent policy changes and enforcement actions to stop illegal robocalls along with an overview of technological solutions consumers can employ to combat illegal robocalls. The Forum will feature speakers from the technology, consumer advocacy, and regulatory communities, among others.
Registration is not required for this event. It will be webcast at fcc.gov/live with open captions. A subsequent announcement will be made providing further specifics about the Forum, including the exact time and an agenda. The FCC's Forum page is here.
About the April 23 Expo
According to the announcement, the Stop Illegal Robocalls Expo will feature technologies, devices and applications to minimize or eliminate the number of illegal robocalls consumers receive. The Expo is free for the public to attend. It will provide a platform for showcasing innovative technologies, devices and applications that will improve consumers' daily lives by combatting illegal robocalls. It will take place on April 23, 2018 from 10:00 a.m. to noon in the Pepco Edison Place Gallery at 702 8th St NW, Washington, D.C. 20068.
Potential exhibitors are invited to submit a request to either Anthony Butler at Anthony.Butler@fcc.gov or 202-418-2372 or Chantal Virgile at Chantal.Virgile@fcc.gov or 202-418-0056. All requests to participate should be submitted on or before March 23, 2018, by 11:59 p.m. EST. The FCC's Expo page is here.
The outrageous proliferation of illegal robocalls and the call blocking and labeling efforts they have caused have sent legitimate callers scrambling to understand and react to what is happening. The problem has been building, but suddenly exploded in 2017. These insideARM articles provide a good background, and relates the issue to debt collectors:
September 11, 2017: The Gathering Avalanche: “Robocall” Blocking, and What Can be Done
September 19, 2017: FCC Committee Meets About Unwanted “Robo” Calls; Makes More Recommendations
January 25, 2018: Industry Groups File Responses to FCC Call Blocking Notice
Call labeling poses a challenge unique to debt collectors because of the potential for third party disclosure of the purpose of the call. Industry groups have been in dialogue with robocall application developers to identify a practical solution, however it has proven difficult to identify a label that 1) serves the purpose of providing accurate information to consumers, 2) prevents third party disclosure, and 3) is applicable to all possible types of debt. One analytics company is in the process of implementing "account servicing" to describe debt collection calls, where applicable (meaning, if the consumer has a the right carrier with the right device and plan -- not all calls will display a category label).
If you haven't yet heard of "STIR" and "SHAKEN," it may be time to learn about them. This Wired article provides a decent overview of the context for these technical protocols that are in the works. Jim McEachern, a senior technology consultant at the communication industry standards body ATIS, which is working to develop these protocols, explains that this solution is meant to be more robust than the current ones (like lists) which are fairly easily overcome by scammers. From the article (scroll down, near the bottom):
In an attempt to go beyond the block list model, though, ATIS has been working with the Internet Engineering Task Force on a different approach. The idea is to create interoperable standards that can be adopted by all mobile and VoIP calling services to do cryptographic digital call signing, so calls can be validated as originating from a legitimate source, and not a spoofed robocall system. The protocols, known as "STIR" and "SHAKEN," are in industry testing right now through ATIS's Robocalling Testbed, which has been used by companies like Sprint, AT&T, Google, Comcast, and Verizon so far.
Okay, so if that was a bit Greek, here is how I think of it: You know how you look for that green lock icon, "secure," and "https" at the top left of your browser in order to confirm a website is secure before you enter sensitive information? Well, SHAKEN is kind of like the process that determines whether to display those signals. In this case, it's what goes on behind the scenes to validate the certificate of the caller. It's not subjective. It's not a label. It's not based on behavior. (The analogy isn't perfect, but it's good enough to get us going.)
As ATIS's McEachern said to Wired,
"It’s in everyone’s interest to figure this out. We’re getting to the point where the consumer doesn’t trust the telephone network, and that’s bad for everyone."