It is a truth universally acknowledged that only a small fraction of the phone calls Americans receive these days are from other actual human beings. Most people have likely been in a conversation with someone that gets interrupted by a phone call, only for the recipient to look at their caller ID, roll their eyes, and go back to whatever they were doing. Robocalls are back in a big way, and on Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver decided to do something about it.
As Oliver explained, robocalls increased by 57 percent in 2018 alone, making for almost 50 billion robocalls last year. Sixty percent of all complaints to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are about robocalls, so they are definitely aware of the problem. Yet the government officials who are supposed to be in charge of this stuff still think it’s your responsibility, as an individual consumer, to control whether giant powerful corporations like Capital One, Comcast, and Wells Fargo can bombard you with automatic calls. Consent to such calls is usually included in long user agreements that no one reads, and is very difficult to revoke.
“It should not entirely be up with us to deal with this bulls—,” Oliver said, capping off a rant about myriad difficulties of figuring out how to stamp and send a letter to a company asking them not to robocall you anymore.
So Oliver turned his attention to the FCC, who do have the authority to regulate and control robocalls. In fact, they actually solved the problem at one point a few years ago by instituting clear rules around consumer consent. But once companies protested, those rules were overturned, and now we’re back to a trend of exponentially increasing robocalls. Oliver described the outcome as “we basically got our one-year sobriety chip and celebrated by drinking a bottle of Captain Morgan.”
To drive the point home, Oliver set up a bunch of robocalls aimed directly at the FCC, to teach them how annoying the phenomenon is. He theatrically unveiled it by pushing a red button that unleashed a giant hand to push an even bigger red button, sending the FCC calls with a recording of Oliver saying, “Hi, FCC. This is John from Customer Service. Congratulations! You’ve just won a chance to lower robocalls in America today. Sorry, but I am a live person! Robocalls are incredibly annoying, and the person who can stop them is you!”
Watch the full clip above.