Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Canadian Do-Not-Call List

CBC Radio had an interesting report this morning on a telemarketing scam I have been getting on my cellphone recently, from an organization starting off by telling me my car warranty has expired. As soon as I hear that, I hang up, or, worse, erase the phone message their computer left. I know when my car warranty expires (well, unless GM enters Ch 11 and even then I suspect they will want to honor existing warranties if they ever hope to sell a car again).
But what struck me as fascinating was the unintended consequence story hiding in this tale of annoyance. Canada recently implemented a do-not-call list for telemarketers. This is a fine concept but the implementation matters. If you follow the link and read even the government's praise of the program you will see it is riddled with holes. One key example is the exemption of registered charities, whom I find the most annoying, and over long years I have learned the only way to get rid of them is to refuse them money consistently over several years. At least the guys calling about cleaning your ducts are possibly offering a service, not just taking your money for their pet causes.
But that is not the unintended consequence. It is this. The way this is implemented is that the CRTC maintains a database of phone numbers registered to the do not call list, and requires telemarketers to purchase the list at a certain update frequency and use that database to eliminate numbers they would potentially call but are required by Canadian law not to.
And apparently it is pretty easy to sign up and buy that database. Now, suppose you are a telemarketer not under Canadian juridisction and not subject to Canadian law, apparently like this warranty scam operation. What a resource! And the Canadian government will sell it to you! Hundreds of thousands of phone numbers, almost all currently in operation.

In Canada, many consumers have complained that they are receiving more phone calls from telemarketers than ever since registering on the Canadian do-not-call list.

The Consumers' Association of Canada says the highly touted list designed to stop many telemarketing calls is having the opposite effect.

"It's a travesty," president Bruce Cran said. "Here we have all these people thinking they were getting rid of incoming phone calls. Anyone who is registered should suspect their phone number is being broadcast to the four winds."

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission launched the registry in September to great fanfare, promising that those who registered would see a drop in unwanted calls. Millions of Canadians have registered their names, home phone numbers and in some cases their cellphone numbers.

The problem, said Cran, is that the CRTC sells the registry list online. "In Toronto, you can get 600,000 names for $50," he said.

It is people with the same mentality as those who designed this brilliant system who will soon be working on deciding whether GM's and Chrysler's plans for restructuring are viable. Good luck to us all.


At 1:03 PM, Blogger Jon123 said...

Alan, I think you've missed the point of the do not call list. It isn't intended to stop all unsolicited calls to your phone. It's intended to be a deterrent. There really isn't anything that can be done about scammers calling you, other than getting an organization like PhoneBusters involved. Scammers could reach you with or without the list. Phone numbers aren't that difficult to figure out. That's what autodialers are for. As for why regional lists can be inexpensive... that's to allow small businesses to comply with the legislation. On why international telemarketers can get the list; that's because there are legitimate companies calling into Canada. Those telemarketers need the opportunity to not piss clients off. If international callers couldn't get the list, there'd be an even larger outcry. Finally telemarketers pay so that there is an audit trail and a level of traceability to telemarketers, and also to subsidize the cost of the infrastructure to keep costs low for the service meaning taxpayers aren't getting dinged, telemarketers are. Naturally telemarketers aren't happy about this.


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