- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

A new technology is available that will prevent consumers from screening out telemarketers. Call-management company Castel Inc. has created a product that prevents devices such as the popular TeleZapper which fakes the tones of a disconnected number from working.
The Beverly, Mass., company says the purpose of DirectQuest is not to annoy consumers or beat their privacy gadgets, but rather to help telemarketers comply with new federal and state regulations, which will cut down on harassment long term.
DirectQuest bypasses the TeleZapper, but it also will follow new federal guidelines by providing proper identification of the person who is calling, minimizing abandoned calls and connecting the caller and customer immediately, instead of allowing for "dead air" after the caller says hello.
The device, which costs about $2,700 per calling operator, can be used on "predictive dialers" the high-volume, computer-dialed systems that use multiple lines to connect telemarketing agents to consumers.
"We're not trying to invade people's privacy," said Geoffrey S. Burr, president and chief executive of Castel. "We believe the entire teleservices industry is in crisis a crisis of its own making. Consumers are fed up appropriately. We're trying to make telemarketers less intrusive and less annoying."
But some privacy advocates are skeptical, at best.
"It shows me the privacy arms race that's going on in this country," said Robert Bulmash, founder and president of Private Citizen Inc., a consumer privacy group based in Illinois. "The 'telenuisance' industry will jump on this."
Mr. Bulmash expects telemarketers will have DirectQuest within the next two to three months.
In an effort to fend off telemarketing calls, the TeleZapper and other privacy devices have become hot items among fed-up consumers.
Royal Appliance Manufacturing Co, the parent company of the maker of the TeleZapper, says millions of the devices have been sold. The gadget is designed to fool predictive dialers into dropping the call by playing the three tones of a disconnected number. The consumer's number is then dropped from the telemarketer's list.
Mr. Bulmash estimates that people spend at least $2 billion a year on caller ID and paying for unlisted numbers to minimize unwanted phone calls, while millions of others buy the TeleZapper, which costs about $40.
"[Castel] has found a way to steal that money from us," Mr. Bulmash said.
TeleZapper officials aren't worried.
"We are aware that the vast majority of telemarketing technology still uses a system that is not digital, therefore the TeleZapper still works on those calls," says Chris Cicirelli, a company spokeswoman. "We don't foresee [telemarketers] switching to this technology … because of the significant cost and the magnitude of the switch."
The Federal Trade Commission is establishing a national "Do Not Call" registry for which consumers can sign up to avoid most telemarketing calls. It could take effect as early as September. (Visit www.ftc.gov/donotcall for information.)
The FTC has amended its telemarketing rule by limiting abandoned calls, restricting unauthorized billing and requiring telemarketers to transmit caller ID information.
The Federal Communications Commission also is trying to establish a "do not call" list that would extend to many of the businesses that are exempt from the FTC's rules, such as banks, insurers and telephone companies.
Castel officials say best way to block calls altogether is with the federal "do not call" list as well as similar state "Do Not Call" registries.
"The simple solution for anyone who does not want [these calls] is to get on the 'do not call' list," Mr. Burr said. "We support that."
Once consumers sign up for the "do not call" registries and their names are removed from telemarketers' lists, the TeleZapper will come into play less often, said Allen Hile, an assistant director in the division of marketing practices at the Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC's national registry of names does not cover calls such as surveys and political calls, so the TeleZapper could be used in those cases, Mr. Hile said.
Castel officials say they have been fighting for strict enforcement of the new federal rules. Enforcement, however, concerns privacy advocates like Mr. Bulmash.
"You think telemarketers will abide by the FTC because there's a law, just look at the people speeding on the road," Mr. Bulmash said. "People don't follow the law; telemarketers won't follow this."

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