Star 09 I know you called: Privacy apps give back some missed features to today’s caller
By: Kelly Fitzpatrick
Many are familiar with this situation – you get home from a long day at work, you’re fixing dinner for the family while helping the kids with their homework and your phone rings. Many have smartphones these days, and unless a person is in the address book the caller ID doesn’t recognize the source of the number. Usually you answer because it may be important. But you soon discover the person on the other line is an unwelcome intruder on your already limited time at home – a telemarketer.
According to Jeff Stalnaker, CEO and president of First Orion, there are about 150 million telemarketing calls made in the United States every day. And about 20 percent are breaking the law, which is about 30 million of those calls.
He says it’s a bit of a challenge for consumers to report violations (such as still being called if they are on a Do Not Call list) accurately in order for authorities to stop them. After a long, tired day at work and the business of getting home, most folks aren’t getting the correct information and the process is just too cumbersome to report. Companies like Stalnaker’s are hoping to solve that problem.
First Orion just released the PrivacyStar application about 11 months ago for Android, Blackberry and VoIP users (not on iPhone). The application offers many of the privacy features we remember from the days of land lines such as caller ID, call blocking and caller lookup (remember *69?).
“In our business there are basically three key words. The first is privacy, the second is protection and the third is preference for our user base,” says Stalnaker. He says that many folks come up with many cool ideas for apps but if they don’t fit into privacy, protection or preference, the company is not really interested in pursuing those opportunities.
“Fundamentally what we do is very simple in terms of giving you control of your smartphone,” says Stalnaker.” We give you the ability, very easily, to block anyone that is calling you whether it’s a telemarketer or a debt collector or your neighbor or ex-spouses. So directly from your call log just select that you want to block that person from calling you again and from then on they won’t ring through.”
He adds it’s very easy to unblock people as well; one of the key fundamentals of his business is to make it all easy and understandable for the user.
Other features of the PrivacyStar app are text blocking for Android users, a smart block feature which takes the top 25 most blocked numbers as determined by over 300 users and blocks them on your behalf and reporting telemarketers and debt collectors that are breaking federal and state laws.
“If you’re on a do not call list you have rights and those rights need to be enforced,” he says. “So with the touch of about two buttons we capture all the info from that call, the time, who it was, the telephone number, your telephone number and we submit it to the Federal Trade Commission directly. This has been incredibly popular; we’ve closed in on 100,000 complaints in about eight months.“
Stalnaker feels it’s a bit of a challenge for consumers to report violators to authorities very easily. In order to file a complaint one has to go to www.ftc.gov, find the complaint form, have all the data from the call in question and send it over. His app, and others like his, takes those steps out and does it for you.
Small businesses are taking advantage of the privacy apps too.
“A lot of our users are small business guys,” says Stalnaker. “And when I say that I’m talking real estate agents, doctors ‘offices, lawyers, any repair shop that uses their cell phones as a predominant way of communicating or receiving potential prospects.”
A business owner can’t necessarily avoid answering the phone because they could be missing out on a potential prospect or customer. The application allows blocking of unwanted calls and filters in the folks they want to hear from. “Those may not be necessary violations of the rules because it’s business-to-business, but none the less they’re taking up your time, they’re using your minutes and they’re irritating to you. So we see a lot of small business folks that love the service.”
Stalnaker feels the biggest inconvience behind not having a privacy app is the huge time drain but it’s also a financial burden, stating if someone is paying $80 a month for a cell phone, they should be able to control who calls them.
But he says the most important thing anyone can do first is register with the do not call list at donotcall.gov.
“If we have someone that tries to file a complaint and they’re not on the do not call list, we pop up a message and remind them that they need to register and it only takes a minute to do,” says Stalnaker. “You can block a number, but if you want to go the next step you do need to be on that national list.”
Businesses are also required to maintain their own do not call list and as a consumer he says you should request to be added to those as well.
With a lot of small businesses pushing their phone services to VoIP, Stalnaker says that’s the most exciting initiative currently. All the features are available for that service as well. Blocking a call is just as easy as hitting *09. If it’s a debt collector you hit 1, if it’s a telemarketer you press 2. It’s just that simple.
“VoIP usage is growing at 25 percent a year, with 40 million VoIP access lines in the United States,” he says. “The advantage of technology and the quality of service on the VoIP providers has changed that whole landscape dramatically.”
He adds he thinks privacy on any communication landscape is crucial.
“Phone companies usually get paid for connecting calls, not connecting calls and ultimately the consumer is paying for the bill,” he says. “They should have the right to select who can or can not call them. And the ability to easily report something is really crucial, just the ability for you to mash a button and tell somebody if someone is breaking the rules. That’s something we’re making easier for not only consumers but also the authorities.”