Ameritech Launches Privacy Manager

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Ameritech last month launched its new phone service called Privacy Manager that screens sales calls from telemarketers, sparking mixed responses from the teleservices industry.


In ad spots in Ameritech's Midwestern markets, the telco touts the benefits of the service, including fewer calls to consumers, an end to unknown name/unknown number or name/number blocked calls and fewer interruptions of customers' free time.


The spots by Interpublic's Ammirati Puris Lintas feature intimate moments of family life uninterrupted by phone calls, such as a father and son enjoying quite time together. Ad copy at the bottom of the screen asks: "Would you interrupt this moment for an aluminum siding deal? Introducing Privacy Manager ... It stops unwanted, unidentified calls before your phone even rings."


"Nothing is wrong with the product," said Mary Weyand, president of the American Telemarketing Association. "It is the way that they are positioning themselves that is a surprise."


Ameritech, after all, is not only a telemarketer, with its own percentage of outbound calls, but the telco, as well, outsources its services to other marketers with its Ameritech Call Center Solutions.


Communications services for the telco include local and long distance telephone, cellular, paging, security, cable TV and Internet.


"For many Americans, quality time at home has become a scarce resource," said Richard Notebaert, chairman and chief executive officer of Ameritech in a statement. "This innovative new product, Ameritech Privacy Manager, enables customers to take back their free time by gaining choice and control over every incoming call."


The company did not return calls seeking comment about the product.


In a released statement, the company quoted a poll by Lou Harris Associates completed earlier this year that found that nearly eight in 10 Americans think that sales calls can be intrusive.


Privacy Manager reduces how often the phone rings, said the company. In testing, approximately seven out of every 10 unidentified callers simply hung up when their call was intercepted by the service -- meaning far fewer interruptions for Privacy Manager subscribers.


The service is the newest addition to Ameritech's range of privacy-enhancing services, such as caller-ID, call screening (enables customers to block up to 10 numbers), *69 ID service and private listings. The company will begin licensing the Privacy Manager service software to other phone companies sometime next year.


Customers must purchase a caller-ID display box before they are able to acquire the service. Monthly charges are $3.95 for the service that blocks calls made from phone numbers classified as "blocked," "out of area," "unavailable," or "unknown." A recording comes on and asks outside callers to reveal their identity by speaking their name.


If callers don't leave their name, the call is disconnected. If the caller leaves a name, the person they attempted to call hears the phone ring and a recorded message says, "This is Privacy Manager. You have a call from ..." The person has a choice to accept the call, reject it, or play a message that says: "We don't accept telemarketing calls. Please add me to your 'do-not-call' list."


According to the company, the last option is legally binding.


"It is a valid do-not-call request," said Tyler Prochnow, attorney for Lathrop & Gage L.C, Kansas City, MO. "It satisfies the requirements of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. But 'legally binding' is too strong [a statement]," he added.


The company has established a special number, 1-800-PRIVACY, for customers interested in signing up for the service. In addition, the company's Web site -- www.ameritech.com -- offers information on the new service and tips on how to protect personal privacy.


The ATA supports this.


"We really support the consumer's right to choose," Weyand said. "We support [consumers who decide to] put their names on the 'do-not-call' list. If someone doesn't want to be called, we don't want to be calling him.


"But there are a number of people who appreciate being called about things they are interested in," she said. If someone is an avid tennis player, for example, and someone calls about tennis, the consumer will want that call. If the call is about golf, he won't be interested.


"It is up to the telemarketer to be selective and careful about who they are calling," she added.


"This product is not significantly different from caller ID," said John Calk, vice president of marketing and business development for Apac Teleservices, Omaha, NE. "It is not going to change things. Consumers who don't want to speak to telemarketers have been able to do that for some time.


"If anything," he said, "it might enhance our efficiency. It will help us better target those consumers who want to be called."


Approximately 6 to 12 percent of the people Apac calls are interested in buying the product and service it offers, said the company.


"[Telemarketers] are selling billions of dollars over the telephone," added Calk.
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