Fact Check

SBC Ameritech

Must SBC Ameritech customers contact the company within thirty days to prevent the sale of their personal information?

Published Feb 27, 2002


Claim:   SBC Ameritech customers must contact the company within thirty days to prevent the distribution of their personal information.

Status:   Sort of.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2002]

In case you missed this on the news last night, Jennifer Grandholm (our Attorney General) was on TV telling everyone that in small print on your Ameritech phone bill this month is a message telling you that Ameritech (SBC) intends to sell your account information unless you notify them by the end of the month that you do not want them to make it available.

The phone number is (800)-303-7260 to select that you do not want your account information made available to others (all you need is your phone #). Jennifer recommends that you call and notify them that you do not want your personal information distributed. She is upset about the way SBC is covering this up. The call takes less than a minute. This is just another way for SBC to make money while making us pay more for our bills.

Just an FYI. This phone number is valid. I just called the 800 number and prevented my personal information from being shared. You only have until the end of the month, so hurry!

Origins:   Issues regarding privacy and the sale and distribution of customers' personal information for telemarketing, direct mail advertising, or other purposes by financial institutions and telecommunications companies continue to simmer. In this specific case, the issue concerning SBC Ameritech is similar to the one raised by 2001's somewhat exaggerated e-warning about the sale of personal information by credit agencies. In this case, however, the warning may have missed its


The issue here is the use of "opt-out" schemes which require customers to take the initiative in contacting companies to prevent the sharing or sale of their personal information. Jennifer Granholm (not "Grandholm") is the Attorney General for the State of Michigan, one of 38 state Attorneys General belonging to the National Association of Attorneys General who believe that opt-out notices "do not adequately ensure customer 'approval' to information sharing because they are neither read nor understood by the vast majority of consumers" and are urging the Federal Communications Commission to protect the privacy interests of consumers by requiring telecommunications carriers to adopt an "opt-in" approach to the distribution of Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI). She has indeed urged SBC Ameritech customers to respond to the company's recently-mailed Data Sharing Notice by contacting the company and invoking their opt-out privileges to prevent Ameritech from "selling their personal information to other companies that could use the information for telemarketing or direct mail advertising."

CPNI is, in general, specific information about calls placed by telecommunications customers: whom they call, when they call, and where they make those calls from. (Some states have also defined CPNI to include unpublished and unlisted phone numbers.) FCC regulations prohibit telecommunications carriers from using CPNI to market services to customers, identify customers who call their competitors, or regain customers who have switched carriers without the approval of those customers. A federal court has ruled that requiring customers to contact carriers and invoke an opt-out program satisfies the approval requirements laid down by the FCC.

However, the Data Sharing Notice issued by SBC Ameritech, which Ms. Granholm was addressing, is not a notice that SBC Ameritech will be selling CPNI unless customers contact them and request to be excluded:

SBC Ameritech, its affiliates and authorized agents would like to offer you products and services that will best meet your needs by using information about services you have already purchased from the SBC family of companies.

Protecting the privacy of your service and usage records is your right and our duty under federal law. We are required to inform you that you have a choice in allowing us to use the information about the services you have purchased from SBC Ameritech, SBC Long Distance or other affiliates to offer additional products and services to you. We could use your customer information to advise you of products that may be of interest to you, like DSL with Internet or long distance, even if you do not currently have any
services from those SBC affiliates. Your customer information includes the types of services you purchase, how you use them, and the related billing of those services. If this use of your customer information is acceptable, then no further action on your part is required

If you do not want us to use any of your service and usage information to offer products and services, please call 800-303-7260 within 30 days of receiving this notice. There is no charge for electing to restrict your information. By allowing us to use your customer information, we will be able to offer products and services that you may find valuable based on your existing services. Restricting your information will not affect the products you currently have from SBC Ameritech and may not eliminate all
marketing contacts. Even if you restrict use of your information, it may be used to market services to you. Your election is valid until you affirmatively revoke it.

The employees and management of all the SBC Ameritech family of companies would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your continued business. We are proud to carry on our long tradition of providing our community with reliable, technologically advanced and affordable

This notice informs SBC Ameritech customers that information about the "types of services you purchase, how you use them, and the related billing of those services" may be used by SBC Ameritech itself (and their affiliates) "to offer additional products and services to you." In other words, if you use SBC Ameritech's long distance services, they might use your information to offer you SBC's DSL services as well. This notice does not proclaim that SBC will sell CPNI to other companies for marketing and advertising purposes unless you ask them not to.

The heart of the issue is that SBC's auxiliary services (such as DSL and Internet access) are technically offered by separate companies established by SBC, and thus SBC Ameritech must obtain approval to share customer information with those companies. All of the information remains within SBC's "family" of companies, however, so the claim that SBC will "sell" your customer information unless you opt out is misleading.

Last updated:   4 December 2007

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.