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

By on Feb 4th

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?