Does your phone sometimes ring, and when you pick it up there’s silence (not even heavy breathing), and then whoever called just hangs up on you after a few seconds?
No, it’s not a burglar seeing if you’re at home. Well, probably not, anyway.
It’s a telemarketing company, using an autodialer.
The dialer works its way through its list of numbers, and when someone answers, it attempts to connect them to a human telemarketer. If all of those humans are already on another call, the autodialer just hangs up.
Some telemarketers say that this hang-up, or “abandon”, rate is only about five per cent - the dialers are configurable, to dial more or less aggressively when almost all of the humans are busy. But I can tell you that I get a heck of a lot more than one hang-up for every nineteen who have someone available to waste my time in person.
Hang-up calls do, of course, tarnish the otherwise sterling reputation of the telemarketing industry. But, one, many people don’t know that hang-up calls are from telemarketers. And, two, hang-ups tarnish the whole industry’s reputation in general, while the slightly higher number of successful connections that a telemarketing company gets if they crank their autodialer up to maximum speed translates directly into more profit for that company.
That’s right, kids; this is a Tragedy of the Commons. When an action X exists which is harmful yet profitable, and the harm is spread over a large group but the profit accrues only to whoever does X, it is in everybody’s interest to do X, even if they know exactly why they shouldn’t.
Here in Australia, it appears that telemarketers don’t even have to use outgoing phone numbers that’re visible on Caller ID, My hang-up calls are always from numbers that just come up as “PRIVATE”.
And I can’t, of course, ask the weasels responsible to take my number off their list, because I don’t get to talk to them!
Getting an actual unlisted number genuinely does seem to work, but that ain’t free, and apparently has to come along with the same “silent number” Caller ID un-listing that the telemarketer source numbers use. I don’t want that.
To be fair, this is still not a major problem. The small Australian phone-sales market (our whole 775-million-hectare country has about 10% more people in it than 14-million-hectare New York State) just doesn’t seem to support a very large number of professional telephone nuisances. So even though this household has made the horrible mistake of giving money to some charities that know what our phone number is, we only get, I don’t know, maybe three telephone solicitations a week - versus the dozens per day that’ve historically been suffered by the worst-affected US households.
To be perfectly honest, I prefer hang-up calls to the kind where an actual human says “Hello, is this Mr [surname of my girlfriend, to whom I am not married and whose surname I do not share]?”
I keep forgetting to tell those people to take me off their list. I can’t resist the urge to tell them, using a few by-now-carefully-honed words, that their salutation has given them away, then hang up immediately.
Still and all, though, my vote stands ready to be cast in favour of the first politician whose Law And Order Crusade aims at People Who’re Using Autodiallers For Anything Other Than Old-School Hard-Core Hacking, rather than the more traditional target of People Who’d Like To Be Happy.