Ameritech Defends Privacy Manager to Conference Crowd

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ORLANDO, FL - Approximately nine months after its controversial launch, Ameritech's Privacy Manager is used by hundreds of thousands of customers and is experiencing lower return rates than Caller-ID.


Facing a crowd representing the industry whose calls the product helps screen out, Ameritech vice president Curt Witte pointed to the system's popularity as a customer choice tool to defend the device as he fielded questions and criticisms from a full audience at the DMA Telephone Marketing Conference here.


Used in conjunction with Caller-ID, the device intercepts calls listed as coming from an unknown number before the telephone rings. Callers are then asked to identify themselves and the company that employs them. The phone only rings in the home after the caller has been identified. When someone in the home picks up the phone, a message plays identifying the caller and offering the option of either accepting the call, rejecting the call, or playing a message saying the person called does not accept telemarketing calls and would like to be added to a do-not-call list.


The announcement requesting inclusion on a do-not-call list is only played for 2 percent to 3 percent of calls received by Privacy Manager, Witte said. Studies have shown that in 70 percent of calls to the service, the caller hung up without providing identification, meaning the calls never rang in homes.


Predictive dialers may be a factor in the large percentage of unidentified hangups. To a dialer, the system would be treated as an answering machine, so dialers that are not programmed to leave messages on answering machines would disconnect when reaching the system.


Many in the audience noted that several companies do not have the technology to display their number when dialing using a predictive dialer and therefore would never be able to reach homes using the system. Subsequently, as many dialers repeatedly call numbers they have not been able to connect with, the Privacy Manager would force the dialer to rack up repeated connection charges to numbers they are never able to reach, others noted.


While acknowledging there may be ways to make the system more compatible with unidentified numbers belonging to legitimate telemarketers, Witte suggested expenses incurred by telemarketers as a result of the product might in reality be lower than they appear.


"Forty percent of consumers use the answering machine as a screening device," Witte said, indicating that consumers who buy Privacy Manager might be those more likely to screen which calls they want to answer.


"It's an enhancement to Caller-ID that puts more choice in the hands of the consumer," he said, and issued an appeal to the DMA to endorse the product as a part of the organization's privacy efforts.


The product, which drew 190 media stories in its first two days of release - including a front-page article in USA Today, an article on the front page of the business section of the Wall Street Journal, 43 other print articles and 145 television broadcasts - may have resulted in a rise in sales of Caller-ID, Witte said.


In research conducted by Ameritech and by outside research firms prior to Privacy Manager's release, the company found that 80 percent of consumers feel unwanted sales calls are intrusive; overwhelmingly consumers do not want to receive calls from people they do not know; consumers often receive calls they wish they hadn't answered and often receive calls at an inconvenient time.
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