As has been documented in a few places –

– our dear Nigerian friends are using the Web interfaces to relay services to call bookstores, computer retailers, and the like, and clumsily attempt to place fraudulent orders. (See the FCC homepage on relays, which is curiously underreported online.)

These IP relay services, as by MCI, Sprint, and AT&T, are not mandated by any law anywhere, let alone the United States, the only country I know of that has them. They’re entirely optional. They permit scammers to make “TTY”-to-voice calls within the United States at zero cost. If the scammers wanted to use the relay service the conventional way, they’d have to place an overseas call, and that would eat into profit margins.

I’ve used the IP relay services here and there. Usually they won’t let me call Canada. One operator admitted her system did not differentiate between calls originating from TTYs or from the Web. Well, that’s your first clue right there: Set a flag on every operator’s terminal.

But more importantly, this entire fraud problem could be eliminated overnight by shutting down the IP relay services, which would cause no inconvenience whatsoever to nearly every TTY user. It’s already a toll-free call to contact the relay service (nearly everywhere in the U.S., you just dial 711), and every legitimate user has a TTY already or can get one easily. You can use computer software, even on Macs. We don’t need IP relay.

I can imagine a rare case in which a deaf person with a dexterity impairment finds it easier to type on computer than on a TTY, but that would remain true with TTY software. In fact, it would be more reliable in that case. IP relay services are Web applications. Apart from violating the User Agent Accessibility Guidelines, they’re slow and buggy on every system I’ve used. The AT&T phone kiosks in Newark airport reliably crash 30 seconds into any call – and those are provided as the only way to make a TTY call at the airport. I can get some IP relays to work sometimes in IE and Safari, but never in Mozilla.

IP relay is a nice idea. A variation of same – video relaying, using sign language – is something I experienced firsthand a month or so ago, and it seems to work OK. But the pool has been sullied. We do not need IP relay to use the damned phone.

If that seems drastic, do what the Australians do and set up a registration system – for IP relay only. (I thought the British had a similar registration system, but both countries eliminated nearly all such registrations. I called them up to ask.)

Curious factoid: After reading yet another reiteration of the following shibboleth, I simply could not get EuroCory to accept that a chief function of a relay service is not, in fact, to enable a deaf person to “order a pizza.” Its chief function is to enable deaf, hard-of-hearing, and speech-impaired people to call anyone they want, and vice-versa, for any purpose for which voice calls can be used. Yes, that does indeed include phone sex in some places. (Others either prudishly prevent such calls or cannot bill them, as via 900 or 0876 numbers.) There is no killer app for relay services; relay services are the killer app.

In one example, some arsehole on the Captioning list defamed my commitment to improved captioning and accessibility. Wasn’t he surprised to find his TDD lighting up a few days later with me on the end demanding an apology, which I got. EuroCory dismissed this as an atypical use case. There is no typical use case – any more than there is such a thing for voice calls.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2004.04.22 18:45. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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