Mobile apps making Do-Not-Call Act obsolete

It once took an act of Congress to block unwanted calls, now it just takes a smartphone app.

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The top-four call-blocking smartphone apps - Mr. Number, True Caller, WhitePages Current, and Call Blocker - have been downloaded over 20 million times. Tied for the No. 4 call-blocking app, WhitePages Current claims to have identified 7 billion incoming calls and texts. Smartphone users no longer need to remember to add their names to the National Do Not Call Registry and reregister every three years to prevent unsolicited calls; they can simply download an app.

More than 60% of the people who responded to a Gallup poll commissioned by WhitePages said that they used call blocking apps to block unknown or telemarketer calls. The top reasons were:

  • Because they don’t like talking to telemarketers (65%)
  • Due to spam (44%)
  • To avoid prank calls (26%)
  • Because they’re receiving calls for the old owner of their current number (21%)
  • To avoid changing their phone number (20%)

Many of these apps not only block calls, but they also use databases to match the incoming caller ID to the company or person calling so the receiving party can decide if they want to answer.

Before the expansion of the mobile web that accompanied the iPhone in 2007, cellphones were primarily used to make phone calls. Calls were expensive, and minutes that exceeded the monthly limit were punitively priced at $0.25 per minute. Consumers became righteous in defense of their mobile telephone minute budgets, declining calls from people who were not expressly granted permission to call them. This righteousness carried forward to today, even though monthly minute budgets have grown and the price of calls has dropped.

Another reason is that the options available for communicating have exploded beyond telephone calls, text messages, and email. Social media, messaging apps like Line and Whats App, video calls using Skype or Google Hangouts, all offer a comparatively rich explanation of the relationship and the context of the communications.

Consumers and businesses have a lot more choice and can easily research almost anything online to answer their questions and decide what to do or buy. This gives consumers the flexibility of making purchasing decisions on their own terms, and a new level of disdain for those who interrupt with a telephone call to try to manipulate their choice.

Telemarketers aren’t the only reason for blocking calls. Between 15% and 20% of the respondents to the poll said they blocked calls from callers with whom they had a prior romantic relationship, callers who were stalking them, bill collectors, and friends. About the same percentage said they blocked calls simply because they were too busy.

The world has been turned upside down since 2003 when the U.S. Congress passed the Do-Not-Call Implementation Act. At the time, landlines outnumbered cellphones and Apple had not yet re-invented the smartphone. Telephone calls are just a number, and unless the receiving party’s smartphone matches it with the context and relationship compared to so many other means of smartphone communications that do, telephone calls drop to the lowest priority.

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