I’m interrupted far too often by cold-callers, PPI spammers, or even
just from people calling the wrong number. Last week my Out Of Hours
support phone got an SMS from a hospital laboratory saying “your test
result is normal”. I’ve been thinking about ways to reduce the number
of nuisance calls without hampering the usability of phones too much.
I think part of the problem is that phone numbers are too short: we’ve
run out of numbers. (When you get a new number, someone has likely had
that number before you. Who knows what they were up to?) A more
serious problem is that the numbers have no check sums. Mistype just
one digit and you end up calling the wrong number. With a good
check sum you could instead receive a helpful message saying that the
number you typed contained an error, and in some cases could even tell
you which digit was incorrect!
A more serious pest is the PPI spammers and many cold-callers that use
an auto-dialler. They work
by calling many people at a time and either play a recorded message or
connect punters to an operator. I receive PPI spam several times a
week now from multiple different numbers. Some even call from
Dealing with short numbers should be simple. Their length has been
extended many times before. (Many years ago, the local shop where I
grew up had phone number 11.) The problem is they don’t go far enough:
I don’t see why we can’t just double the length of phone numbers.
(Nobody actually memorise phone numbers these days, do they? If so,
this could be an incentive you to kick that habit. Or, make it actually
impressive. Either way, it’s a win.) Obviously we could retain the
current numbers for anyone that would like to put their number in
adverts, leaflets, etc. Doubling the length of phone numbers could
help combat auto-diallers, in that it would become much, much more
resource intensive to simply try guessing numbers. Phone companies
could also charge a small fee for connecting you to a number that
doesn’t exist, to further deter auto-dialling.
While longer numbers would mean not having to use a recycled number,
and making auto-dialling impractical, it is not enough. It offers no
protection from people giving or selling your number to people you
don’t want to talk to. We know that blacklisting doesn’t work: like me
I’m sure you block every cold-caller you encounter, but every week
they’re using new numbers. We cannot block them in advance. Or can we?
This is where white-listing comes in. Apple’s iPhones have a feature
called DND (Do Not Disturb), which allows you to specify a time range
when your phone should not make a noise when receiving calls or
messages, so you can avoid being woken up in the middle of the night
for example. More interestingly, they allow you to specify that some
people in your contacts can get through to you, even if DND is on.
I’m close to turning my phone on DND permanently, but allowing access
from family and friends in my contacts. Although, you would then still
see missed calls, so if that annoys you (it does me) it’s not a
complete solution either.
PS: I’ve found out that Windows phones allow you to block callers with
no caller id. This is something that I’ve wanted for a long time.
Hopefully Apple will implement this as well. Or maybe I’ll be buying a
Windows phone next…?