I know I'm not the only one who hates telemarketers. For one thing, telemarketers are evil -- like biting insects. Everyone wants to swat them, but they skitter away. Also, there are too many of them, so your efforts eventually feel futile.
Rather than resign ourselves to being harassed, consumers banded together in protest, and the Do Not Call Registry was formed in 2003 -- but that wasn't enough. The Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, and the states enforce the National Do Not Call Registry, but putting your phone number on it no longer seems to be effective. You also have to take the time to report telemarketers who ignore the DNC; otherwise, they just carry on.
[ Also on InfoWorld: Telemarketers aren't the mobile industry's only problem. According to the Better Business Bureau, cell phone makers and carriers top the list of consumer tech complaints | Frustrated by tech support? Get answers in InfoWorld's Gripe Line newsletter. ]
Many consumers, myself included, cancelled our landline to escape the swarm of telemarketers. Do the Baby Bells know how many customers they lost forever because of these pests?
Now we hide behind our cell and VoIP phones. But even though the FCC bans automatic dialing to cell phones and it's easy to put your mobile number on the DNC, the insects have found us again, and there's no escape. Not for me anyway -- I always have my cell phone with me. It's a much more immediate and personal form of communication than that landline ever was.
These days, when I get a telemarketing call, it's not just interrupting my supper -- it's interrupting my life. So here is my gripe: Telemarketers are back, and this time it's personal.
When I got a press release recently announcing a product designed to stop this invasion, I set up a conference call right away to hear more about it. I found myself having a delightful conversation with PrivacyStar CEO Jeff Stalnaker. The company makes an application ($2.95 a month after a 30-day trial) for BlackBerrys that not only blocks telemarketing calls, but automates the process of reporting the calls to the Do Not Call Registry.
"There are over a 190 million people on the DNC list," Stalnaker told me, "and there are a 150 million telemarketing calls made every day. We have estimated that about 30 million of those calls are violating your rights as a consumer. More and more people are using their cell phone for package deliveries and that sort of thing, so telemarketers are getting that number and using it. This has become a huge -- and growing -- problem. In some countries where people skip the landline altogether, it is even worse. People in Brazil, for example, average 20 telemarking calls a day."
We griped for a bit about telemarketers' pesky nature, and he explained that his service allows you to block -- via a single click -- any future calls from a number that offends you, even if it's your mother-in-law or alma mater requesting donations. The caller gets no voicemail and simply can't get through. The service will also look up a number as it's ringing you, so you can see who's calling even if they aren't in your contact list.
The part I like the best was PrivacyStar's ability to easily report offenders. "The reason the FTC and regulators in the states have a problem enforcing the DNC," Stalnaker explained, "is that it is too challenging for users to complain when they get called." You have to go to the DNC complaint section at its Website, type in your own number, the time and date of the call, the number the call came from, and anything else you know about the company that called you. People just don't get around to it.
"But all that data is right there at your fingertips on your cell phone," said Stalnaker. PrivacyStar automates the complaint process; with a click, the complaint is filed right after you get the call.
"We are at 15,000 complaints since we launched in December," he said. "It's almost like we can match when there is a big campaign going on."
That brings me to my next gripe: PrivacyStar is currently only available for BlackBerrys, which I don't have. Stalnaker promised there'd be an Android application this summer. After that comes the iPhone -- maybe in six months. On the heels of the iPhone, the company plans tools for Symbian and Microsoft Mobile phones. There are plans for a similar service for VoIP lines, as well.
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