If I don't know you, I won't talk to you: why I have a cruel blacklisting app on my phone

NO I WILL NOT TAKE YOUR CALL. By: Mike LichtCC BY 2.0
While attending a small film festival a few years ago, I made the mistake of texting my vote for the festival's best film. Within a couple days, my phone number had been sold to marketers and I started receiving a ton of text spams.

This made me very angry. I was already dealing with telemarketers calling my mobile, trying to sell me mortgage refinancing and carpet cleaning, and now I had to deal with shitty text spamming too? It started getting to the point where half the time my phone made a noise, it was a voicemail from a telemarketer or a text spam.

I got angry — and then I got an app.

I use Android, so the app I got is called Blacklist Pro, but I'm confident those of you with iPhones have similar options. The app has a variety of settings to control your privacy, and after a lot of fiddling, I have mine set meaner than mean:

  • If you're in my address book, my phone rings and I get your texts like normal.
  • If you're not in my address book and you text me, your message is blocked and I get a little silent Blacklist notification of the message. I'll check it eventually, but my phone doesn't make a noise so it may be hours. (I KNOW: hours!)
  • If you're not in my address book and you call me, my app hangs up on you. Then gives me another little silent notification letting me know the number that was ignored.

I used to have the app set to send non-contact phone calls to voicemail, but after getting a few dozen messages from machines talking to me about credit card offers and home security systems, I went for the super-cruel option of just having the app hang up on unknown callers. I get a silent notification of the number that was blocked, and if it's a local number I usually call back.

Now look: I realize this method is kinda hardcore. I risk missing calls from friends calling from new or unknown numbers. When I'm expecting a call from someone (say someone who I've called, or a journalist, or a job reference for an Offbeat Empire part-timer interviewing for a day job), I just turn the app off.

99% of the time, however, if you're not in my phone's contact list, I probably don't want to talk to you. At least not right now.

Part of how this works for me is that I'm VERY easy to contact online. Google my name and the top thing that pops up is my portfolio page that includes a form to contact me. I'm super easy to find on Twitter. You can contact me via one of my business websites. You can probably even guess what my work email address is. (That's also the reason why I'm the asshole without contact info on my business cards.)

Here's my thinking: If a friend calls from a new number and can't get through, they have my email address. If you want to talk business, and you're cold-calling me, you're probably not the kind of person I want to do business with. Again, part of why this works is because I'm so easy to find online… my phone is a special communication channel, and my privacy is a very high priority for me.

Of course… I may be extra sensitive about this issue because there was that one time when my cell number got listed in the yellow pages as an Escort Service and I started getting Johns calling me every weekend night.

How far do YOU go to protect your privacy on your phone? Do you use a blacklist app?

  1. I had no idea at all that this was a thing. I think it is awesome, and not cruel at all. What is cruel is some telemarketer/auto-dialer/political recording calling my phone and wasting my damn minutes and my time.

    If only they made something like this for home phones, too.

    9 agree
  2. I have two phones. They're both pay-as-you-go and not smartphones (I know, oldskool), so we're not talking any extra outlay now I've got them. One has the number that is already out there and that I know has been sold, the other has the number to which I have migrated close friends and family, *no-one else*. Because, telemarketers, it's not cool harrassing people into putting their phones on silent so that they then are not awoken by that call about a family member going into hospital or from a best friend who's been booted out of their flat and needs somewhere to sleep. Not. Cool. At. All. So I say fine, have my number, and call all you like, it's your own time you're wasting.

    I'll bear this app in mind if I ever upgrade though :D.

    4 agree
  3. I'm curious if Ariel or others who use blacklist apps run into problems with banking. I travel for work and even when I'm proactive about alerting accounts, I tend to get more than a few friendly fraud checks per year (not complaining, better safe than sorry). But these calls or texts tend to come from really diverse numbers- numbers that aren't in my contacts but I DO want to receive info from…

    1 agrees
    • Great question! I have a Google Voice account that goes straight to voicemail/email that I use for all banking/business matters.

      7 agree
      • Google voice saves my life – especially since I never have to listen to a voicemail since I get emailed a (usually correct) transcription. I hate voicemail with a passion I don't think I could even begin to explain.

        6 agree
  4. I'd looove to hear recommendations for iPhone apps that do this. Right now I just have all previous spammers set to a contact called "Dont Answer" who has the quietest ringtone (that weird spacey UFO noise) so that I never really hear them. It doesn't work with new numbers though, I have to manually ignore those.

    My only tiny worry is that a friend or family member might be in some sort of quasi-emergency situation (car break down with no phone service, jail, etc) and not be able to get through from whatever phone they're using. But… I'm already ignoring things and letting them go to voicemail, so as long as it just did that….

    4 agree
  5. Trigger warning: I had a suicide scare with a family member for whom I was able to raise the alarm simply because I'd left my phone on loud that night, and the text message signal woke me up in the morning.

    Since then, I've always had a weird relationship with setting my phone. It took me a while to get past it, for a while I would panic if I forgot my phone anywhere and I was jumpy to leave it on silent. Getting a phone call at an odd hour only to discover it was just some jerk trying to pressure me to opt into overdrafts sucked balls.

    I've thought so much about how much I'd love a phone to block sales calls, and somehow sort 2AM texts between 'I'm bored, entertain me' and 'there's been an emergency and we need you now'. This app will definitely be on my list to check if/when I get a smart phone.

    2 agree
  6. I don't think this is cruel at all.

    I get about 3 calls a week. It's either Charity or spam…. The Spam sucks. But the Charity calls make me feel incredibly guilty because I CAN'T donate right now. Not don't want to – can't. Whenever I can donate – I do!! As much as I can, even if it's only $20 here and there. But your phone call (wasting donated resources IMO) isn't going to make me donate when I can't…and now I have to deal with you. And say no to your very good cause. And explain that I'm broke, or lie. And feel guilty…

    And while I wouldn't consider myself a "telemarketer" I've done plenty of cold calls in the past, and that side of the conversation sucks just as much!! It's just a bummer all the way around. I wish there was a better way.

    This app is NOT cruel, it's genius!

    3 agree
  7. Phones. Are. The. Devil's. Tool.

    If someone's not in my contact list (which is damn well complete), I don't pick up. My outgoing voicemail message says, "You have reached $phonenumber. Please don't leave a message, as I won't listen to it. You can text me at this number, or email me at $email. Have a nice day!"

    Thank god for Google Voice's transcriptions of voicemails, because some idiots still leave me voicemails after that.

    1 agrees
    • haha, this is genius. I hate listening to voicemails. I just end up texting the person after they call to say "hey what's up?" and then never listen to the voicemail.

      2 agree
      • I'm not alone in the hating voicemail department! You have no idea how happy that makes me! :)

  8. We have a do not call register in Australia. You sign up to it and then you don't get calls from telemarketers (charities and politicians are exempt but it's better than nothing) I'm pretty sure they just added mobile phones to that list too!

    2 agree
    • We have a "do not call" register in the US too… unfortunately many telemarketers ignore it. :/

      11 agree
      • True? They can actually get in trouble for that here. There is a complaint section on the Do Not Call website specifically for that.

        5 agree
        • You can complain, but they just get a slap on the wrist and then keep doing it.

          2 agree
      • There is also a loophole to where if you've signed up for services of Parent Company they will often call you to try to upsell you on new services. Not technically a violation of the list as you did business with them in one form or another. Sucks too.

        1 agrees
  9. I want one of these for my home phone! We got a new number yesterday, and it must have been someone's old number as we had a telemarketer call every hour from 11am when I plugged the phone in, until 7pm at night. Urgh!

  10. The Do Not Call list is great…when the law is enforced, which it often isn't. And the law does not apply to unwanted calls from people who aren't telemarketers.

    Having been on the receiving end of countless nuisance phone calls when my number fell into the hands of criminals (I am not exaggerating), I use Trapcall, which works on any phone, including the iPhone (the base plan is $4.95 a month and worth every cent).

    Trapcall can also unmask blocked numbers – no more heart-pounding terror when a blocked number comes up!

    I am RUTHLESS when blocking numbers. Because I have been subjected to such extreme levels of phone harassment, I refuse to take unscheduled calls from strangers.

    3 agree
  11. For middle of the night emergencies the iPhone has quite a nice feature. You can set it on silent, but if the same number calls you back again within a coupe of minutes it will ring.
    You can set the hours you want this feature to turn on and off

    4 agree
    • It's called Do Not Disturb and is in iOS 6. You can also set specific numbers for it to allow during the off hours.

  12. When my last cell-phone was plagued by constant telemarketers, I just signed up for the Do Not Call registry in America. I then spent a few weeks telling telemarketers that I was on that list, and many of them would immediately hang up and permanently remove me from their call-lists. After only about a month, all the calls stopped.

    https://www.donotcall.gov/

    I highly suggest doing this. I don't know what it does about text messages, but my last phone was a cell and it stopped the calls, at least.

    1 agrees
    • For texts they're actually not allowed to message you whether you're DNC or not! I'm too lazy to google the website right now but you can easily report people.

  13. My life became immensely better when I discovered a silent ringtone. I set it for numbers that I might want to keep around, but don't want to answer (like the symphony, which calls me periodically asking for money, but which also calls me if there's a problem with my tickets, for example)

    I also have a contact called Do Not Answer with the silent ringtone, to which I assign every telemarketer that calls or texts me–I *am* on the Do Not Call list, but many of them ignore it.

    And last, I don't answer any call from a number I don't recognize (unless I'm expecting a call about a delivery or from a service or something like that). Anyone calling me legitimately can leave a message.

    1 agrees
    • If a telemarketer is ignoring the Do Not Call list, first politely inform them that you're on the list, since they might not be aware. If they don't immediately apologize and hang up, then start the polite threats to file a complaint.

      https://complaints.donotcall.gov/complaint/complaintcheck.aspx?panel=2

      It's a pretty simple process, and companies really don't want the penalties, so most companies will cease and desist as soon as you tell them you're on the list, and most of the rest will give up as soon as you make the first threat. And if you do need to file a complaint, it only takes 3 minutes or so, tops, and you're saving not only yourself, but probably others from unwanted calls that way.

      • There is a serious problem with scummy telemarketers ignoring the Do Not call list. They hop from phone number to phone number and it's a tangle of company registrations to find out who actually owns the number. By the time the FCC figures it out, they're long gone.

        2 agree
  14. I've had unlisted numbers since forever (I'm talking before cell phones). I've never had this problem. If I want my number to come through when I call someone, I just dial a three digit code first (or it's just programmed into my phone that way). Other than that, no one has my number unless I want them to. Super easy.

  15. PUT YOUR NUMBER ON THE DO NOT CALL LIST! It works miracles. Since they can now spam cell phones, you can put a cell number on as well.

    In the US advertisers are also strictly forbidden from sending unsolicited text messages, whether or not you're on the DNC list.

    1. Put yourself on the DNC list
    2. Report anybody who calls you anyway, esp if you don't do business with them. If you do business with them ask them to stop and then report them.

    I switched phone numbers a couple years ago and started getting spam again. After being added to DNC registry I was only getting random calls from a collections agency looking for Randy, they called at 8:30 every morning and never said anything when I picked up. I reported them at the appropriate place on the DNC and don't deal with them anymore.

    We've also opted out of preapproved credit card offers and use the PaperKarma to unsub from other paper junk so we live a low spam life and it rocks.

    1 agrees
  16. Not cruel. Necessary.
    Also, I'd be freaking out if my number got listed in a situation like yours (an Escort service? I sometimes let my mom borrow my phone so… that would lead to problems.)
    Also liking the iPhone suggestions people are giving. :)

    1 agrees
  17. I set the default ringtone on my iPhone to crickets, and set all my contacts to a different ring. That way when I hear crickets I know to ignore it.

    3 agree
  18. While I've been lucky to not have a major problem with this in recent years, the app would've come in mighty handy when I was 19 and getting 5+ calls a night from johns looking for a transgendered escort named Lauren (who had an add in the back of a local paper).

    For some reason, about 25% of the time, they wouldn't believe me when I told them that they had the wrong number, which gave me lingering insecurities about the femininity of my voice. Ahhh, the days before apps.

    • which gave me lingering insecurities about the femininity of my voice

      'Cause trans women sound like blokes, right?

      Crikey, I don't expect that sort of cissexism around here. O_o

      3 agree

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