Turns out there is something fishy about the telephone voting system on ”American Idol.” Producers have acknowledged to the Associated Press that the system is susceptible to power-dialing phone phreaks, hackers who use high-tech tools to place as many as 10,000 votes a night from a single phone line with the touch of a button. That’s a lot more than the few hundred calls you might generate by repeatedly hitting your redial button.
FremantleMedia, the London-based company that produces ”Idol,” says that the 100 or so vote spammers have had ”statistically insiginificant” effect on the millions of votes recorded each week, especially since they’re voting for different performers. ”They’re all over the country, and they tend to be slamming the system at all ends,” FremantleMedia VP Michael Eaton told AP.
While ”Idol”’s system is designed to block out calls from different parts of the country so that viewers can call only within two hours of the airing of the show in each time zone, it lacks any procedure for blocking multiple calls from a single line, phone security expert Dave Hoch told AP. ”There’s different levels of security. This is no security,” he said. ”What it is, is a very dumb system which is great for generating call volumes, but does nothing for security.”
In fact, Fox has been boasting of the sheer number of calls received each week, which had grown to 14.5 million by last Tuesday. ”We’re actually thrilled that America is so obsessed with the show that they’re willing to log in this many phone calls,” a Fox spokeswoman told AP.
Now that there are just four finalists left, there are fears that the power dialers could skew the votes toward one candidate or another. Aaron Pinto, who runs a fan website for ejected contestant Ryan Starr, speculated that the hackers might be Nikki McKibbin fans, ”I think Nikki might cater more to the computer nerd group,” Pinto told AP. ”A lot of these computer nerds, they’re kind of like closet anarchists.”
But producer Eaton says the show may take steps to block the phone slammers. ”We know who these people are and we’re tracking them, and if it gets to a point where they’re starting to support a specific person over another, then there are steps that we have discussed that we may take at that time.”