printer iconPrinter-friendly Version

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 13, 2004

Schumer Warns: First-Ever "Cell Phone Phone-Book" Could Disclose Your Cell Number Without Your Permission And Charge You A Fee For Not Listing It

New Yorker cell phone users could also be deluged by telemarketers calls and text-message spam if new directory goes forward; in addition, users would have to pay for these unsolicited calls and messages

Only a few cell phone companies in New York have taken concrete steps to protect consumers

Bipartisan Schumer plan keeps cell numbers unlisted unless users ask to be publishe

US Senator Charles E. Schumer today warned New York cell phone users that a proposed new "cell phone phone-book" leaves them at risk seeing their cell phone bills skyrocket because telemarketers will now easily be able to solicit them on the go – violating their privacy and driving up monthly cell phone bills. Schumer today also released a new study finding that over 2 million NY cell phone users who text-message could see millions in extra costs from an onslaught of text message spam if the proposed cell phone directory is fully implemented, and showing the wide differences between how different cell phone companies treat – and charge customers for – text-message spam.

Schumer today announced new bipartisan legislation to require cell phone companies to get permission from customers before adding their numbers to a new public directory database and block cell phone companies both from charging customers not to be listed in the directory.

"When word first leaked out that the cell phone industry wanted to create a nationwide cell phone phone book, opposition was almost unanimous because it would be a goldmine for telemarketers, spammers and pranksters who want to drive up your cell phone bills with unsolicited calls," Schumer said. "Now the cell phone industry says 'don't worry, we got you covered' I say the cell phone industry's record speaks for itself: worry when they say they you got covered."

For weeks, cell phone companies have been bombarding New Yorkers with radio, television, and print advertisements that pitch new cell phones and new cell phone plans as ideal gifts for next week's Fathers Day holiday. But much more quietly, they are working through their Washington trade group, the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA), to create a public cell phone directory accessible by calling 411, which they hope to have ready by the end of this year.

Schumer today warned that most cell phone users will find that the new directory helps telemarketers and spammers more than it helps them, ending their presumption of privacy they have enjoyed with cell phone numbers, and driving up minutes used (and monthly bills) due to unsolicited telemarketer calls.

Schumer said today that the CTIA's defense of this project – that the list will only be available by calling 411 and won't be printed – is transparent because the existence of the directory in any form will be a magnet for telemarketers. It would be well worth the telemarketing industry's investment to pay the one-time directory assistance fee charged for each name in order to harvest millions of new, working phone numbers to target. If telemarketers hired people, gave them existing direct marketing databases or even traditional phone books, and simply had them repeatedly call the new cell phone 411 directory to find cell phone numbers that match up with the land-line names, an enormous cell phone direct-marketing database could be created at little cost within weeks if not days.

The US Federal Trade Commission's highly popular do-not-call registry already accepts mobile phone numbers, relatively few people have registered their cell phones because of their reasonable expectation that the number was unlisted and private. But despite widespread concerns from cell phone customers that they will lose the privacy they have come to expect with cell phones, only three major cell phone companies – Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile – have promised not to give customer numbers up for the directory. Schumer said today that the cellular's phone industry's questionable record on consumer disclosure requires intervention to protect consumers' rights. One year ago, a Schumer study found New York City cell phone users were paying over $82 million per year in un-advertised fees to cell phone companies. These additional charges – $6.9 million a month added to monthly bills by four of the six wireless providers in New York City – were not advertised as part of the cost of cell phone calling plans.

Schumer today released a new study showing that over 2 million NY cell phone users who text-message are at particular risk from the new cell phone directory, because users could see millions in extra costs from onslaught of text message spam. Text messages are similar to email and can be sent from email accounts or from other text-message equipped phones, but unlike traditional email text messages are sent to a phone number, not an internet address. Most new cellular phones have the technological capacity to accept and send text messages.

In December, President Bush signed anti-spam legislation authorizing the US Federal Trade Commission to create a no-spam email registry modeled after Schumer's legislation. Schumer's registry bill was included in the CAN SPAM bill that also imposes criminal penalties and fines on repeat spammers. The bill requires the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to deliver a plan to Congress for creating a no-spam registry by this Tuesday, and authorizes it to implement the plan as early as September. CAN SPAM also gave the FTC rule-making authority on text message spam, but the government has not yet put those rules in place. Spam is any form of unsolicited email that users receive from commercial sources. The most common forms of spam include advertisements for online gambling services, pornography, herbal remedies or financial schemes, many of which are fraudulent in nature.

Schumer noted that government officials in Japan – which is usually at least one cycle ahead of the United States in cell phone technology – recently had to pass anti-spam cell phone text messaging legislation after a recent day when customers of one cell phone company received 150 million pieces of spam. Approximately 38 million customers of the largest Japanese wireless company, NTT DoCoMo, were affected by what is thought to be the world's single largest case of text message spam.

Schumer today released a survey done by his office of the major cell phone companies, which shows wide variances between how cell phone companies charge customers for unsolicited text messages:

AT&T Wireless: All plans come with free unlimited incoming text messages–so users would never be charged for receiving a text message.

Sprint PCS: Users who receive a text message but do not open it do not get charged.

Users can view first part of messages without charge. Users can block people sending emails straight to a phone. Users can block certain types of addresses from sending you text messages (for example, users can block all Yahoo or Hotmail addresses from sending messages straight to the phone). Users can block text messages from specific phone numbers.

Nextel: Users who receive a text message but do not open it do not get charged. Even before opening a text message, users can see what phone number it was sent from. Users cannot block certain categories of text messages (for example, Yahoo or Hotmail). If users opt to block all text messages, they lose voice-mail capability on their phones.

Verizon Wireless: Users are charged for each text message they receive regardless of whether or not they open the message. It is possible to block all incoming text messages, but if users do this they also lose the capability to send text messages. Users who receive SPAM text messages can call Verizon and ask them to remove them from your bill. It is not possible to block text messages coming from a specific phone number.

T-Mobile: Users who receive a text message but do not open it do get charged. Users cannot find out who the text message is from without opening the message.

Cingular: Users who receive a text message but do not open it do get charged. It is possible to block all messages from Yahoo or Hotmail addresses if you send a message from your phone to request that.

Schumer today detailed the Wireless 411 Privacy Act that he has co-sponsored with Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), which amends the Communications Act of 1934 to protect the privacy right of wireless subscribers. Specifically, the bill states that :

• Wireless service providers must have "clear preauthorization from all existing wireless users" before including any person's name or cell phone number in a wireless directory-assistance database.

• When new wireless subscribers sign up for cell phone service, they must be provided with, "a clear conspicuous mechanism to decline to participate in the wireless directory-assistance database."

• No fees will be charged for remaining unlisted.

"The bottom line is we need a belt-and-suspenders approach to make sure the cell phone industry and the telemarketers don't take advantage of consumers with a cell phone phone-book. It took over a year for Washington to come up with the plan for an anti-spam registry due out this week, and cell phone users wouldn't have to wait another year to keep their cell phones telemarketer- and spam-free."

###

Resource Center
chuck around new york icon
Chuck in New York
See what Chuck has been doing in
your area lately
Casework Icon
Services for New Yorkers
For help cutting through the federal government's red tape
Tours Icon
Schedule a Tour
Plan your trip to Washington D.C.
Veterans Icon
Veterans Assistance
Help for those who have served our nation
Protecting Consumers icon
Protecting Consumers
Help and Resources for New York consumers
Grants Assistance icon
Grants Assistance
Guide to applying for federal grants
Financial aid assistance icon
Financial Aid Assistance
Guide to applying for federal financial aid
e-newsletter icon
facebook icon
twitter icon
youtube icon
flickr icon
CMF Bronze Mouse Award for the 111th Congress