Friday, 03 October, 2003

Don't Call Me Anymore

If you want an idea of how hard it will be to pass anti-spam legislation, consider the problems that the FTC, FCC, Congress, and the President are having with the National Do Not Call Registry.

I was thinking the other day that this is a perfect place to show the power of the Internet and distributed computing.  Imagine a central server, similar to the Do Not Call Registry, but operated by private individuals.  Call it the DCMA (Don't Call Me Anymore) List.  (You can substitute your own "A" word if you like.)  People can log in and enter their telephone numbers to be put on the list.  That's the first part.  The second part is what shows off the power of the Internet.

The server has on it the phone numbers and locations of every known telemarketer.  People with spare computing time, who are tired of folding proteins or searching for aliens can sign up to have their computer assist in notifying telemarketers in their area of the people who no longer want to be bothered.  The distributed client program downloads a list of telemarketers in the local area, and begins placing telephone calls to those telemarketers with a recorded message.  The message would be something like this:

Good afternoon.  This is an automated message from the Don't Call Me Anymore List.  Mr. John Doe at telephone number (512)555-8692 has requested that you no longer contact him or his family with telephone marketing messages.  For more information about the Don't Call Me Anymore List, please contact us at (213)555-1234.

Perhaps even a longer message, just to get the point across.  Or repeat the name and telephone number to ensure that the person on the other end gets it.

There are a few problems to work through, here.  Perhaps the most important is verifying that the telephone numbers people input when they sign up actually belong to the person entering them.  There's also the question of what to do if a telemarketer who has been notified goes ahead and places a call.  We can't retaliate by spamming their phone number, but we could probably have them receive one more call, this one with a "second notice" message.

Of course, we'd make the Don't Call Me Anymore List available to any telemarketer who wanted it, and we'd have honeypot numbers on it to catch any telemarketer who obtained the list and then called numbers that were on it.

One nice thing is that the List would not discriminate by letting charitable organizations and political parties call with impunity.  Users could be given the opportunity at signup to block all, or allow certain types of callers.  If you don't mind receiving calls from charitable organizations, then you could choose not to block them.

Assuming that we could verify the people signing up for the free service, would this be illegal, or be considered a denial of service attack?  It would be an interesting thing to try, and I suspect a whole lot more effective than the government's solution.