Growing VoIP Sort-of-Spam Problem

Many people will soon have free telephony over the Internet, to large and generally closed user communities. Leading players here will be:

  • Public instant messaging-based services, notably AIM/AOL, MSN, and Yahoo
  • Telephony-based IP services, such as Skype

A sort-of-spam problem is looming. Not exactly unsolicited commercial voice messages, but rather nuisance calls. Lots of people will find it fun to look up other people, and call them. Eg yesterday I got a call out of the blue from a woman in Columbia. She asked me where I was  going, and she wanted to chat, and have fun, and lark around. Tough life this, being an analyst. Too bad my wife was listening, too.

The point is: these calls cost nothing. My sense is it'll take a year for these nuisance calls to become a common problem.  A lot of it will be done by young people--think of how they're rivetted to instant messaging.

The VoIP services can do something about this, because they are largely closed. Several things that come to mind are:

  • Let users put limitations on who can call them. Just as instant messaging users can restrict who IM's them
  • Develop filtering code that looks for behaviour that looks like automatic calling, driven by a computer program. Shouldn't be too hard to do
  • Require a little introductory dance when someone wants to VoIP someone who doesn't know the caller. Eg, an email first goes to the would-be respondent, and the would-be respondent has to agree to take the call. That hassle would put off a lot of the frivolous calls, but not most bona-fide ones.

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