Privacy advocate Shaun Dakin, a longtime crusader against political robocalls, thinks he’s found the perfect way for voters to finally make a statement that politicians can hear.
He’s launched a new online venture—reverserobocall.com—that allows constituents to record their own automated calls and have them sent to specific politicians.
“I’ve been thinking about something like this for a while,” says Dakin, who also founded the National Political Do-Not-Contact Registry. But it wasn’t until this year that he was able to find a co-founder to help get his project off the ground.
Dakin’s partner in the effort is Aaron Titus—the Maryland parent who robocalled members of the Prince Georges County School Board this past January after he received an early morning robocall himself. After receiving a 4:30 a.m. automated call from the school system informing Titus of a delayed opening due to snow, Titus decided to fight back. He recorded his own robocall and found a company to send it to the home numbers of school board members the following day at 4:30 a.m.
Titus’s call gained him national media attention, as well as some scorn from observers who questioned the legality of the calls or simply thought Titus had gone too far.
Dakin and Titus’s new venture won’t quite work the same way—they’re not calling the home numbers of politicians and the calls will only be made during business hours—but they're hoping it becomes a new tool for constituents to communicate with politicians. And they’re hoping to turn a profit.
“This is a business,” says Dakin. “We’re not advocating for anything here.”
The average robocall on Dakin’s site will cost you about 99 cents to make. And for now, it’s limited to federal officeholders.
Once you select the member or members you’d like to robocall, Dakin’s automated system calls you so that you can record your message. Dakin reserves the right to weed out profanity-laced tirades, however, and anything else that might be considered untoward.
“We’re attempting to model good behavior here,” says Dakin. “A lot of people have said, ‘You need to get their home phone numbers and their cellphones.’ We don’t want to do that. That’s what the politicians do. We’re calling their main switchboard number at the D.C. or district offices, and we’re not calling staffers.”
As for why the average voter couldn’t just do that themselves, Dakin argues too many people simply don’t feel comfortable calling Congress, whether the reason is lack of time or the intimidation factor.
“People can obviously email or write a letter,” he says. “But we think we’re adding an additional channel of communication here. As far as I can tell, hearing the literal voice of the voter is something that’s very often missing.”
C&E asked a handful of phone vendors what they thought of Dakin’s new venture, but didn’t get a response. For his part, Dakin says the industry reaction he’s gotten has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Most of them have said, ‘Good for you. We’re all in this to make some money,’” says Dakin. “Nobody has said we shouldn’t do it or given us a real hard time about it at all.”