Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Robo Revenge

I love this story.

Perhaps the idea of revenge came from his sleep deprivation.

Awakened at 4:33 a.m. Wednesday by a ringing phone, Aaron Titus jumped out of bed in a panic. Maybe something terrible had happened, he thought. Even if nothing was wrong, his heart raced with other considerations: His five children, ages 5 and under, including his week-old daughter, were mercifully still asleep, and he wanted to keep it that way.

In a blurry rush, Titus answered the phone halfway into the second ring, listening in disbelief to an automated caller tell him what he already knew: It was a snow day. School would open two hours late. In other words, he and his family could sleep.

But now he couldn’t.

“I thought, ‘C’mon, people. Really?” he recalls.

Sometime later in the day, the 31-year-old father from Fort Washington, a lawyer who knows a thing or two about technology, made a decision that might well bring amused satisfaction to like-minded parents everywhere.

Titus arranged for an automated message of his own.

He found a robocall company online, taped a message and listed every phone number he could find for nine school board members (sparing the student member), Superintendent William R. Hite and General Counsel Roger C. Thomas.

At 4:30 a.m. Thursday, phones began ringing with 29 seconds of automated, mocking objection:

“This is a Prince George’s County School District parent, calling to thank you for the robocall yesterday at 4:30 in the morning. I decided to return the favor. While I know the school district wanted to ensure I drop my child off two hours late on a snow day, I already knew that before I went to bed. I hope this call demonstrates why a 4:30 a.m. call does more to annoy than to inform.”

It ended: “Quit robocalling parents at 4:30 in the morning or at least allow us to opt out of these intrusive calls.”

I work for a school district that sends out robocalls, even to employees. Fortunately, they send them out at reasonable hours, but I hope that whoever sets them up never makes the mistake the folks at PGCSD did… they might get a call back.