In the past couple of months, you might’ve noticed that you’ve been getting more voice mails. Sometimes, you might have voice mails waiting even though you didn’t have any corresponding missed calls. And when you opened those voice mails, perhaps you’d heard a telemarketer’s message.
This phenomenon, known as “ringless voice mail,” is a rising practice within the telemarketing industry (and particularly for debt collectors). A new New York Times report sheds some light on the practice, which treads the line between technological innovation and current consumer protection laws. Like many new technological frontiers, ringless voice mail is a new take on an age-old argument, and one that currently doesn’t have any legal precedents — though that is changing, fast.
The Federal Communications Commission is currently collecting comments about ringless voice mail, after receiving a petition from a telemarketing company asking the practice to be exempt from the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991. This act “prohibits calling cellular phones with automated dialing and artificial or prerecorded voices without first obtaining consent — except in an emergency.”
For consumers, this debate is about keeping your voice mailbox clear of spam messages that could get in the way of actually important calls. For companies and organizations — including the Republican National Committee — that use ringless voice mail as a direct marketing tactic, it’s about a narrow definition of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, as well as perhaps a matter of free speech.
In a statement to the FCC, the RNC stated, “Political organizations like the R.N.C. use all manner of communications to discuss political and governmental issues and to solicit donations — including direct-to-voice-mail messages.”
The legal standing of ringless voice mail is murky, but likely not for long. A suit against All About the Message, the ringless voice mail provider which petitioned the FCC, has been filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The plaintiff had received four voice mails from a local car dealer — and by taking legal action, has sparked off a very 21st century conflict.