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Federal Trade Commission Officials Address Communications Lawyers on Robocalls and Children’s Privacy

Adrienne Patton

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Screenshot of Daniel Kaufman from October 2015 courtesy C-SPAN

WASHINGTON, March 9, 2020 – The Wednesday panel session hosted by the Federal Communications Bar Association’s Consumer Protection Committee featured attorneys laying out the overwhelming public frustration with robocalls.

The panel was the last FCBA session in March. On Monday, the FCBA announced that it was postponing all of it remaining Washington events for the rest of the month “out of an abundance of caution” in confronting the novel coronavirus, wrote FCBA President Josh Turner.

The FCBA cancellations “include CLEs [Continuing Legal Education sessions], brown bags, the happy hour this Wednesday, the privacy symposium next week, and the mentoring supper that had been set for March 25.”

At the event last Wednesday, Daniel Kaufman, deputy director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said the agency has received 175,000 public comments on the amendments made to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

Google’s YouTube settlement of an FTC lawsuit for $170 million spurred several changes on the YouTube platform. Regarding these changes involving content that could be considered material for children, consumers have had an overwhelming response.

This is “not going to be a quick process,” said Kaufman.

On robocalls, FTC Chief Litigation Counsel Bikram Bandy addressed the continual and widespread frustration with robocalls. He said the FTC gets millions of complaints about the unwarranted phone calls.

To laughter from the predominantly lawyer-filled audience, Bandy said he even receives robocalls on his FTC work phone.

Although the Federal Communications Commission and other agencies are battling robocalls, Bandy said that such calls fell under Title I of the Communications Act as an “information service.” Hence the FTC had jurisdiction, he said.

He also referred to recent Justice Department actions against robocalls, including lawsuits against companies passing calls from foreign call scams. These scams involve everything ranging  from Social Security to romance.

Even if we are able to stop an overwhelming majority of the operations sending out calls, consumers “aren’t going to feel any difference,” because the surviving minority can still easily send millions of scams, explained Bandy.

Bandy commended the latest iPhone features that can filter and block calls. He also called attention to consumer education.

For example, he said, consumers need to know the options available to them to combat robocalls. While using Voice Over Internet Protocol service providers for telemarketing scams or robocalls is “cheap,” it is not free, said Bandy. He encouraged “wide-spread adoption” of technology that filters and blocks the calls.

Bandy said he hopes that eventually unwanted calls will follow the trend of spam emails. Before, spam emails littered inboxes, but now they are widely filtered out.

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