A Change Made By the FCC Could Reduce the Amount of Robocalls You Receive

iStock/Oleksii Spesyvtsev
iStock/Oleksii Spesyvtsev

Robocalls, once an occasional annoyance, have grown into an overwhelming problem for phone owners. Between January 2016 and June 2018, the number of robocalls Americans received doubled from 2 billion to 4 billion. Reports related to spam calls are the most common complaints filed to the FCC. Now, Popular Science reports that the government agency is finally taking action to reduce unwanted spam calls.

On Thursday, June 6, the FCC unanimously voted to give phone carriers more freedom to block robocalls. Previously, laws allowed companies like Verizon and AT&T to block certain calls—like automated calls, for example—but only after the customers who would be affected opted in. Under the new rule, carriers can block all robocalls without letting subscribers know or asking for their permission first.

For anyone who dreams of being able to answer a call from an unknown number without the fear of being scammed, the change may sound like a good thing. But there is a drawback: Legitimate calls that use automated dialing—like appointment reminders from doctors' offices, for example—may be an unintended casualty of the robocall purge. The American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management is asking the FCC to add a provision to the rule that ensures medical calls won't be affected.

Exactly how many phone users will be impacted by the change is unclear. Phone carriers can now block more robocalls easily, but they're not obligated to by law. And if providers do want to take advantage of the rule, they may take their time developing new call-blocking features.

Instead of waiting for your phone company to fix the issue, you can take steps to reduce the flow of robocalls you receive today. Several apps, including Nomorobo and RoboKiller, automatically ignores calls that match numbers in its scam caller database. You can also see if your carrier offers robocall-reducing apps for free or for a few extra dollars a month.

[h/t Popular Science]

Surprise! Microsoft Admits That People Are Listening In on Your Cortana and Skype Conversations

mabe123/iStock via Getty Images
mabe123/iStock via Getty Images

In a turn of events that, at this point, probably shocks no one, Microsoft has confessed that human contractors have been listening in on some people's private conversations via Skype and Cortana.

Vice first broke the news on the privacy breach earlier this month, after a contractor passed along documents, screenshots, and actual audio files of some conversations. “The fact that I can even share some of this with you shows how lax things are in terms of protecting user data,” the contractor, whose name was withheld (for obvious reasons), told Motherboard. Unlike Apple’s recent Siri snafu, these conversations didn’t include potential criminal activity, but they did catch intimate exchanges about weight loss, love, and relationship problems.

Also unlike Apple: Microsoft is not suspending its practices. Instead, the tech monolith has updated its privacy policy to clarify that humans might, in fact, be eavesdropping on you.

“We realized, based on questions raised recently, that we could do a better job of clarifying that humans sometimes review this content,” a Microsoft representative told Vice. Before, the Skype website had mentioned that your content could be analyzed in order to improve the technology, but it never explicitly stated that humans would be listening to it.

Microsoft only records Skype conversations that use its translation features, in order to “help the translation and speech technology learn and grow,” according to the Skype FAQ section. If you’re not using translation features, your sweet nothings are reportedly as private as you want them to be. The updated FAQ section also now states that “Microsoft employees and vendors” may be transcribing the translated audio, and the procedures are “designed to protect users’ privacy, including taking steps to de-identify data, requiring non-disclosure agreements with vendors and their employees,” and more.

But Cortana’s data gathering isn’t limited to translation. According to its support page, Microsoft can collect your voice data literally any time you “use your voice to say something to Cortana or invoke skills.” If that worries you, we recommend spending some time adjusting the settings on your Microsoft Privacy Dashboard.

[h/t Vice]

Amazon Is Making It Easier for Sellers to Donate Returned or Unsold Items Instead of Trashing Them

ronstik/iStock via Getty Images
ronstik/iStock via Getty Images

After mailing back an unwanted Amazon order or bringing it to a drop-off location, you may assume your return will find its way to a good home. But not every item returned to Amazon is re-listed on the website. Many third-party sellers working through Amazon simply toss returned products in the trash along with any surplus goods they can't sell. That's about to change: As CNBC reports, the retailer will make its new Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) Donations program the default option for independent shops based in the U.S. and the UK.

Starting in September 2019, sellers that have unwanted returns or unsold items sitting in an Amazon warehouse can depend on the company to donate them to a good cause. In the U.S., products that are eligible for donation will be sent to various nonprofits through a charity group called Good360, and in the UK, groups including Newlife, Salvation Army, and Barnardo will distribute the goods.

“We know getting products into the hands of those who need them transforms lives and strengthens local communities,” Alice Shobe, director of Amazon in the Community, said in a statement. “We are delighted to extend this program to sellers who use our fulfillment services.”

Amazon charges independent sellers 50 cents to ship unsold items back to them and just 15 cents to throw them away, meaning that donating or trying to resell returned items wasn't always cost-effective for businesses. Amazon reportedly wasted 293,000 products over a nine-month period in just one French distribution center alone.

The company now aims to incentivize sellers to donate their unsold and returned inventory by making it the cheaper option, according to sellers who spoke to CNBC. As part of this program, Amazon will also manage the logistics and work with charities in an effort to "streamline the donation process for independent sellers."

The Fulfillment by Amazon Donations program will be the default for U.S. and UK sellers starting on September 1, but stores will still have the opportunity to opt out if they wish.

[h/t CNBC]

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