Patrick Marshall answers your personal technology questions each week.
Q: I often call the East Coast at around 5:30 a.m. on my landline. If I don’t get an answer I leave a message. Within a few minutes I will get a robocall. I have Comcast for my landline. I am also on the Do-Not-Call list, but that is useless. Who/what is notifying the robocallers that I am using my phone?
— Pat Sheffels
A: I agree that the Do-Not-Call list is pretty useless. And the tracking of our calls goes even further. I’ve found that when I fly to another state I suddenly start getting robocalls from numbers in the area code where I’ve landed.
Telecom companies do keep records of when calls are made from numbers they service, where those calls go and how long the call lasts. And unless your telecom’s contract with you prevents them from doing so, they may sell that information to third parties, including robocallers. You may, in short, want to take a close look at Comcast’s Customer Privacy Notice, which you can access at https://www.xfinity.com/Corporate/Customers/Policies/CustomerPrivacy#third-parties-for-marketing-purposes.
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In that notice you’ll find this: “We will not share, sell, license, rent, or otherwise permit access to information that personally identifies you to an unaffiliated third party for that third party to market its products or services to you, unless we have the required consent to do so.” That would seem to protect you against your number being shopped around … unless somewhere in the agreements you’ve made you have delivered consent.
But the bottom line is this: I’m not a lawyer so neither you nor I want to count on my legal advice. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to have an attorney scan the fine print in all the contracts I sign with service providers. So I’ve turned to a more reliable way to eliminate robocalls.
At first, I tried NoMoRobo, an app for landlines, iPhones and Android phones which uses a blacklist of numbers used by telemarketers and robocallers to block calls. But I found that, at least for my Android phone, too many calls were getting through and I didn’t like that even when a call was blocked the app let the phone ring once to alert me, which I found distracting.
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So I adopted a more severe method: I installed Calls Blacklist, an app that allows me to block ALL calls except those in my list of contacts. Any other callers will automatically be diverted to voicemail without the phone ringing and distracting me. And the vast majority of robocallers and telemarketers never actually leave a message. Of course, if I’m expecting a call from someone not in my contacts list, I have to temporarily turn off the app.
Q: I like to take my smartphone or tablet to restaurants that provide Wi-Fi. The only restaurant I have trouble with is McDonald’s. I try to attach to their free Wi-Fi, but I can’t seem to get it. I check with the Settings table. It says I’m connected to McDonald’s Wi-Fi but I can’t seem to access anything on the internet. What am I doing wrong?
— Dave Mack
A: If you’re only having the problem at one location, I suspect the fault is with the configuration of that site’s router. Specifically, it would seem that the McDonald’s Wi-Fi is not connecting your computer to a Domain Name System server — that’s the server that translates your request for a site into a specific IP (internet Protocol) address.
To check on this you can summon a Command Prompt (by clicking on the Windows icon in the System Tray and then scrolling down to the Windows System folder) and then entering “ping 184.108.40.206” and hitting Enter. (Don’t type in the quotation marks.) If you get a series of replies, yes, you are connected to the internet. Next, at the Command Prompt type “ping google.com” and hit Enter. If you don’t get a series of replies you are not connected to a DNS server. If the McDonald’s is the only place you’re having the problem, it’s caused by a configuration issue with their router.