Robots do wonderful things. They dispose of bombs and take care of other dangerous things us mortals would rather not do. They also vacuum your home if you have a roomba.  All well and good unless they are calling your house!

The recent controversy in Canada over the use of robo dialing to influence the election by annoying the supporters of other parties or directing them to the wrong location to vote is disturbing from a political ethics point of view but it is also significant for all of those who still use the telephone — whether for telemarketing or even research.

Over the past decade we have moved to a permission-based culture when it comes to corporate communications and the information about robo-calling is likely to increase the public desire for only permission-based communication.

The current political controversy has the potential to have significant impact on anyone involved in using the phone for business purposes for an important reason:

The association of telephone calls with deception is being reinforced in the public mind.

Business is about trust and one of the issues that has become clear is that you probably can’t trust what you hear on the phone. Not only might the person be telling you an untruth but the fact that the calls were traced to a cell phone owned by Pierre Poutine really undermines the veracity of anything on the phone.

Now most people have probably received calls that they have questioned — the classic, “I am calling from Windows because your computer is sending us error reports” but in most of these cases the average person is probably not fooled. The robo dialing controversy is so threatening because it was the kind of message that on its face may have been true.

The next time you get a call from your phone company, a political party or charity you support, or even a market research firm will you wonder if it is really them?

In the past eight years since the  do-not-call list was came into effect in Canada (An Act of Parliament in  2004) a lot of Canadians have opted out. In effect, the list provides the opportunity for Canadians to restrict who can call them with a few exemptions (charities, market research). There are 10,321,282 numbers currently registered on the list. Telling evidence that consumers are taking steps to control access to them.

How many more people will add their names? How much demand will there be for a removal of the current do-not-call exemptions?