In the Science Fiction world of Isaac Asimov, robots are required to abide by three simple laws:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
The FTC has now added a fourth: A robot must not call you up during dinner and pester you with dubious commercial come-ons. Yep, as of this Tuesday, the FTC has outlawed robocalls.
Well, some of them, anyway. This new law of robotics comes trailing a lot of fine print. Politicians and survey-takers can still robocall you, as can banks, debt collectors, and charities. For all the gory details -- 42 packed pages of them -- see here.
The open question is whether or not the new regulations will shut up one chatty robocaller named Rachel from Cardholder Services. I'm one of the few Americans, it seems, who hasn't received a call (or two dozen) from this persistent but mysterious robo-lady, who sometimes goes by the name Heather or Michelle, and who claims to be able to lower your interest rates. But she makes a lot of calls, and she's not making a lot of friends: Do a quick Google search on the phrase "Rachel from Cardholder Services" and you'll find dozens of web pages complaining about her calls.
Now, banks and credit card companies, which are outside the FTC's jurisdiction, are exempt from the robocall ban. But no one seems to have been able to track down just who "Rachel" is or (more importantly) who she works for. James Shiffer at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune has been looking for her for months. Twice he's tracked the calls back to Florida financial companies -- or perhaps one company working under multiple names -- but the people there have denied having anything to do with her. (See here and here for his coverage.)
Whatever is going on here, it's shady. If Rachel (or Heather or Michelle, or any other sleazy robotic or human telemarketer) gives you a call, report it by visiting donotcall.gov or by calling 1-888-382-1222.