On last night’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver was in classic form. During a 17-minute rant, he pulled together diligent research and a gonzo stunt to educate and entertain on an under-the-radar but vitally important subject. This week, his target was robocalling.
A robocall is “any call where you hear a recording or a robot voice or when a machine automatically dialed your number even if there is a real person on the other end,” according to Oliver. He noted that last year Americans received 47.8 billion robocalls, a 57 percent increase from 2017.
He also noted that they’re terrible, and that “hatred of them might be the only thing everyone in America agrees on now.” So who’s behind them, and who’s letting them happen. An unholy alliance of scammers and corporate America and the FCC, respectively.
Major companies like Capital One, Comcast, and Wells Fargo use robocalls to chase down people who owe them money. They can call a lot — over 20 times a day in at least one instance — because they get consent to call with rarely read user agreements and require a physical letter to rescind it.
Scammers use spoofing, a practice that conceals the identity of the caller, to get people to answer their calls, often by pretending to be a caller from the same area code, the government, or even, in one memorable clip, a family member.
It’s the FCC’s job to police this nonsense, but an effort made by the past commissioner was struck down and current FCC commissioner Ajit Pai claims to be against the practice but has done nothing to restrict it.
In classic Oliverian style, the host combines a gonzo stunt and an absurd prop to drive the point home and troll the FCC commissioners who are putting the interests of companies over citizens. Do yourself a favor and watch the whole thing.