DEBRIS.COMgood for a laugh, or possibly an aneurysm

Wednesday, December 4th, 2002

SBC sells your phone records.

Customers of SBC Communications — including Southwestern Bell, Ameritech, Pacific Bell, Nevada Bell, or in other words anyone who owns a telephone and lives in Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, California, Nevada, or Connecticut — should be aware that your phone company is selling your calling history.

Wanting privacy doesn’t mean you have something to hide. SBC’s definition of CPNI, Customer Proprietary Network Information, lists the data SBC no longer consider private, including:

Here’s the confusing thing: the SBC privacy policy claims, honestly, SBC does not sell CPNI to unaffiliated third parties. But as David Lazarus points out in The devil’s in Pac Bell’s phone bill details, SBC is affiliated with many more companies than you’d care to share your calling history with.

P*B spokespeople call this a “family of companies.” It sounds warm and fuzzy… but that’s probably not the same feeling you get when your phone rings at dinnertime. Worse than that, telemarketers won’t have to guess that you’re home at dinnertime — they can look at your phone bill from last month and predict when you’re home. Don’t think there aren’t any patterns there; any halfway-intelligent burgler can scan a phone bill and draw conclusions about the homeowner’s schedule.

Lazarus wrote a followup article to explain the backlash from the first: Pac Bell strikes back. It notes that SBC/P*B’s phone reps are familiar with, and sensitive about the story. I experienced this firsthand when I called the Customer Service number (800-310-2355) and asked the rep if I could “opt out of the personal data-sharing that’s been in the news.” She forwarded me to an automated service — she wouldn’t help me personally, and would not give me the direct-dial number of the automated service. At the appropriate prompt I keyed in my phone number and 3-digit account-number extension, but then the system read me a failure message, something along the lines of “we were not able to assist you.” Then the line was disconnected.

I called 800-310-2355 again, navigated through to a human, and very politely requested to have my account flagged “private,” without mentioning the Lazarus story. The rep handled my request personally. I suppose the lesson here is that we’re allowed to opt out, but not if we admit to knowledge about the controversy.

It might also be possible to opt-out online at This might only work for California residents.

posted to channel: Privacy
updated: 2004-02-22 22:49:16

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