Photo: Steven Senne (AP)
President Donald Trump on Monday signed into law a bill that aims to curb annoying spam robocalls that have saturated our recent-call lists over the past few years. And it might help! At the very least, it will make us feel like someone is trying to do something about this relentless mess.
The bipartisan Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, first introduced in November 2018, increases fines on spam robocallers from $1,500 to as much as $10,000 per illegal call and otherwise instructs the Federal Communications Commission to crack down on robocallers. Crucially, the law also aims to hasten the rollout of call-authentication technology by telecommunication companies that blocks calls made with spoofed numbers—the one part of this law that stands a real chance of making a difference.
“This historic legislation will provide American consumers with even greater protection against annoying unsolicited robocalls,” the White House said in a statement late Monday. “American families deserve control over their communications, and this legislation will update our laws and regulations to stiffen penalties, increase transparency, and enhance government collaboration to stop unwanted solicitation.”
Passage of the TRACED Act follows an FCC vote in June to allow carriers to block robocalls automatically (which sounds great, but it offers no guarantee that your phone company will offer the service for free). It also comes amid the rise of anti-robocall apps by companies like Nomorobo, Hiya, and YouMail that also help weed out spam calls on smartphones.
Americans collectively received more than 26 billion spam robocalls in 2018, according to Hiya’s count. Data compiled by YouMail—which also spreads its name by providing journalists with data about robocalls—shows that the problem has been even worse in 2019. So, will the TRACED Act do, you know, anything?
Well… maybe? As far as the $10,000-per-robocall fines go, probably not. Of the $208.4 million in fines the FCC levied against illegal robocallers and telemarketers between 2015 and March of this year, the agency reportedly only collected, uh, less than $7,000. Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission, which operates the national Do Not Call Registry, has collected $121 million of the $1.5 billion in civil penalties levied against Do Not Call violators since 2004, the Wall Street Journal reports.
So we must bank our dreams of uninterrupted peace on wireless carriers implementing that call-authentication tech and pray that it will actually work. In the meantime, we’ll continue to just never answer the phone.