Can Blocking Robocalls Actually Jeopardize Your Privacy?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on August 15, 2019

Nobody likes automated, spam phone calls. And for years, the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission have taken numerous measures to allow people to opt out or block so-called robocalls, primarily because of the personal privacy implications involved. But could blocking robocalls backfire and actually jeopardize your privacy?

If you're using a spam-blocking app, it's possible. "Even products specifically designed to prevent spam invade user privacy," according to Fast Company's Dan Hastings. "In fact, one app sends your phone number to three different analytics companies -- and doesn't say so in its privacy policy."

So, what is a privacy-interested consumer supposed to do?

Privacy Policies

Hastings reviewed the top robocall-blocking apps available for download in Apple's App Store, and he was less than impressed with their privacy protections. Yes, all apps are required to have a privacy policy advising customers of what data is being collected, if and how that data is being shared with third parties, and processes for revoking consent to access personal data and deleting it. However, Hastings reports:

Of course, I couldn't find the right place to report my findings and ended up filing a claim with customer support for apps violating user privacy. One company was actually nice enough to publish the email for their data protection officer, but the message bounced back when I reached out. After several attempts to contact these companies I only got one vague response back. They said that the matter will be "looked into.”

Not exactly reassuring.

Privacy Policing

Hastings also found spam-blocking apps that had access to users' phone numbers, contacts, text messages, and voicemails -- all without properly advising consumers how that information was being used, stored, or shared. Blocking robocalls is great, but if you're handing your personal data over to some other unknown entities, is it worth having your information compromised?

As Hastings points out, without a privacy policy that clearly states what user information is being collected, consumers can't really make informed decisions about apps and data sharing. So, if you're trying to stop unwelcome automated calls, be careful which apps you use to do it. And if you think your data has been illegally collected, shared, or otherwise compromised, talk to an experienced consumer protection attorney for help.

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